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PREACHER AND SOCIAL REFORMER
THOS. J. AINSWORTH
TO THE MEMORY OF MR. AND MRS. ROBERT BLACK WHOSE UNVARIED KINDNESS AND SYMPATHY WERE A SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND INSPIRATION TO ME THROUGH TWENTY HAPPY YEARS
BOOK & TRACT DEPOT, TWYNHOLM HOUSE, FULHAM CROSS, LONDON, S.W.
Retyped 1996 by R.M. Payne
1 Kenilworth Avenue, Reading, RG30 3DL
In the preparation of this short biography of Sydney Black, I cannot claim any skill in writing, for it is a first effort. My only qualification for the task is that he was my friend. It has been a labour of love, filling in the all too rare moments of leisure in a busy life; and my chief desire has been to perpetuate, so far as this simple book can do so, the memory of a good man. I had hoped that an abler pen than mine would have undertaken the work.
Any profit that may be derived from the sale of the book will be devoted to the work of the Twynholm Orphanage.
I have been greatly indebted to Mr. R. Wilson Black for relieving me of the details connected with the production of the book, and to my daughter Agnes, for her assistance in collecting the facts relating to Mr. Black's life from the records, and for her help in other ways.
Note added in 1996 :
The work at Fulham described in this book still exists but has been a Baptist Church for many years.
CONTENTS CHAPTER I EARLY DAYS CHAPTER II FIRST EVANGELISTIC TOUR CHAPTER III ROUND THE WORLD CHAPTER IV THE CALL OF LONDON CHAPTER V LAST DAYS CHAPTER VI THE PREACHER
|SYDNEY BLACK||Click here for a photograph of Brother Black 54 Kb|
CHAPTER I - EARLY DAYS -
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THE story of a good man's life is, in his early days at least, the story of his parents' lives, and of no one could this be more truly said that of the subject of this book, Sydney Black. To have known the parents is to account for the devotion, the self-sacrifice, and the enthusiasm for righteousness in the life of their son, for he was the visible embodiment of their aspirations for Christian service, and in him they saw many of their desires realised. It is, therefore, fitting that this chapter should be largely a record of the lives of Robert and Sarah Ann Black.
Robert Black, the father of Sydney Black, was born on 6th June, 1821, in the little village of Twynholm, Kirkcudbrightshire. He was the seventh of a family of eleven. His father, Mr. Hugh Black, was a hand-loom weaver in very humble circumstances, plying his trade in a room in the small cottage which was his home, scarcely able to do more than provide for the bodily needs of his growing family; and thus it came about that his son Robert had to go to work in the fields, and later, to become an apprentice to the village shoemaker. Times were hard then, and bread dear, and every penny that could be earned was needed, so that the lad's schooling was very soon over, though his education in the larger and wider ways of life ended only with his death.
It is not in the nature of things that a young man with Robert Black's energetic, pushing temperament could be content with the little out-of-the-way village, where the days passed so quietly and uneventfully and where the silence would be unbroken for long hours, except for the shrill cry of the plover or the rustle of the trees. Consequently, at twenty-one he came south to England, to push his fortune in company with his village companion and life-long friend, Mr. Milligan. The two young men became assistants to a Mr. Candlish, a draper of Windsor.
The energy of the young Scotsman would not be satisfied until he had reached London, and after only a short stay in Windsor, he found his way to Turnham Green and Hammersmith, where he commenced in business as a draper; and continued, chiefly at Knightsbridge, until 1875, when he retired, having amassed a reasonable competency. His success in business was due chiefly to his sterling honesty, shrewdness and untiring activity; his customers recognised that their interests were safe in his hands, and for more than twenty-five years he secured their entire confidence and was enabled to build up what was perhaps the most successful business of its kind in his day.
It was in the early years of his residence in London that Robert Black met Miss Sarah Ann Wallis, of Nottingham, to whom he was married on 8th April, 1852. Miss Wallis was born on 19th January, 1828, and was one of a family of thirteen children. Her father, Mr. James Wallis, was a member of the Churches of Christ, a small, and then little known, religious community, to which further reference will be made in a later chapter. A leading member of these Churches, Mr. Wallis for many years had edited the monthly journal of the brotherhood, The British Millennial Harbinger, in which task he was assisted by his daughter, who early showed her mental powers and literary ability. Miss Wallis's earliest religious impressions were connected with the Wesleyan Church, where, in her very young days, she consciously accepted Christ as her Saviour; later, she came more directly under the influence of the views of New Testament truth held by her father, and in her girlhood she was immersed and joined the Church. The home life in Nottingham was one informed with the Puritan spirit; its rules were strict yet kindly, the household talk was of religious matters, and the chief end of each member of the family was to glorify God. To this home many visitors came; notable amongst them, in 1847, Alexander Campbell, of America, the leading exponent in that country of the religious tenets held by Mr. James Wallis and the Churches with which he was associated. Mr. Wallis induced his guest to give a series of Lectures and Addresses on New Testament Christianity in London, and it was at one of these lectures that Robert Black first heard what was, to him, a new and almost startling presentation of Divine truth. Brought up, as a child, in the Established Church of Scotland, he had, when seventeen years of age, joined the United Presbyterian Church on the ground that its doctines accorded more with Bible teaching than those of the Church of his parents. The same independent spirit of enquiry led him later, when in Windsor, to take up his membership with the Congregational Church, under the ministry of Dr. Stoughton. Further reading and study of the Word of God convinced him of the necessity for Believers' Immersion, and in 1845 he threw in his lot with the Baptists, taking up his membership with the Church of that order, meeting in the West End Chapel, Hammersmith.
Upon this Bible-loving, earnest mind the message of the American preacher fell with great force, so that after much searching of the Scripture and meditation, Robert Black, in company with two friends, met together as a Church of Christ in London. In this new enterprise they received much help from the late Mr. David King, of Birmingham, whose remarkable powers as teacher and preacher led many more to associate themselves with the little Church.
It was during this period that the acquaintance between Robert Black and Sarah Ann Wallis, based upon similarity of religious views, deepened into a closer and more tender intimacy, and to a union which was unbroken for fifty-three happy years. After their marriage, they resided in Knightsbridge, London, where, for twenty-three years, Mr. Black carried on his ever-prospering business as a draper, and there Mrs. Black made a home for her husband and for the children born to them. The early years of their married life were years of much sorrow, for their first five children all died in childhood. Sydney, the eldest surviving child, was born on 25th July, 1860, and the five following children all lived, the family remaining unbroken for thirty years.
Of these early years the mother would never speak, but their influence upon her life was seen in her tender sympathy for those in suffering and sorrow, and in her absolute devotion to the childen still granted to her. In her home life she was an almost perfect mother, entering into the pleasures of her young family with understanding and gentle tolerance, guiding the children's reading with a wise instinct in her choice of books, and every ready to turn their thoughts in a natural way to the Word of God, so that the Scriptures came to be a familiar and friendly book to them all. Family prayers were always observed in the household, and at times, in the occasional absence of her husband, Mrs. Black would lead the devotions in a simple and sweet directness which was a revelation to those who were privileged to be present. Her love for her family was a passion. All children were dear to her, for the sake of those she had lost. They were never a trouble, and she had always time to listen to and talk with them, to tell them stories in her own quiet way.
Click here for a photograph of Brother Robert and Sister Sarah Ann Black's family. 103 Kb.
The qualities which thus made her the idol of her children and the pride of her husband, caused her to be greatly loved by those to whom she ministered in other homes, for where need was, there she would be found night after night, nursing those who were ill, and who were unable to have paid service. She would often carry out the last sad offices for the dead, if by doing so she could relieve the broken-hearted bereaved ones. Without a shadow of false pride she would at times go from her comfortable home into the poor houses of the suffering, to sweep up their rooms and clean their hearth for "Jesus' sake." With a delicate regard for the feelings of her poorer sisters, she declined to spend an unnecessary penny upon her attire, and preferred to be plainly dressed because, as she once said, "I cannot possibly go smartly dressed into the homes that I enter, where there is often no food to eat and hardly any clothing; it would bring out the contrast and make them feel more unhappy: besides I should not feel it was right to spend money on myself while others need it."
She denied herself that she might give to others, and it could truly be said of Mrs. Black that her life's motto was "Not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
Every cause which had for its object the uplifting of the poor, or the promotion of National or Civic righteousness, had in her a warm advocate. For years she conducted a Children's Week Evening Service, assisted in the Band of Hope and Mothers' Meetings, and regularly attended the Weekly Prayer Meetings. In the larger world, outside the circle of her own immediate Church, she was greatly interested in the British Women's Temperance Association and kindred societies, and took an honourable part in their advancement. In connection with the Churches of Christ she inaugurated, and carried on for years, a large correspondence with members isolated from their own Church fellowship through residence in towns or villages where there were no Churches of their own faith and order, and she received many letters telling the gratitude of those to whom her interesting letters were a source of inspiration and profit.
Public life was, however, not the work most congenial to this saintly woman; she undertook it rather as a duty. Her real life was in her home, and there her influence was greatest. In all her beneficent activities she preserved a sanctuary whether she could repair for spiritual power and uplifting; the result of which was plainly to be seen in a certain clear-sightedness of vision, a loftiness of tone, which led her to test temporal things by referring them to the standard of the eternal. The story of great deeds for humanity grandly done always kindled in Mrs. Black a generous enthusiasm and a hearty response, hence in her later life, the work of Mrs. Booth, of the Salvation Army, met with her warmest approval, and she was almost envious of that godly woman's record. Character always appealed to Mrs. Black more than doctrine, not that she under-valued the latter, for she held strongly to all the essential and permanent elements of the Christian faith, but she felt that ordinances were but means to an end, scaffolding to the structure, temporary, and vanishing when the perfect was come. The end of all Church life was the production in human life of the Christlike character.
Her greatest joy in the later years of her life was in the service rendered by her family in advancing the Kingdom of God: for her children had worthily responded to her training, and were found wholeheartedly engaged in Christian work. She followed with enthusiastic interest, with daily prayers and constant encouragement, the evangelistic career of her eldest son Sydney, and tidings of his success in his chosen work were a matter of profound gladness to her.
In one of the last of her New Year's Circular Letters to the correspondents previously mentioned, she wrote, and in thus writing lays bare her own soul:-
"... The earnest hope that you are holding fast to the things you have learned to know and love in Christ Jesus our Lord, who says to you and all of us, 'Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.'
"May His richest blessing be upon you throughout the coming year, and every year of your busy useful life. I beseech you endeavour in the midst of all your daily work and trials that must come, to cast all your cares on Him because He careth for you. If you feel that nobody cares for you, do not forget that He cares. There is much to discourage us all, but God is strong when we are weak, and all-wise when our way seems dark and the world cold and unfriendly. 'It is a good thing to draw nigh unto Him.' 'He will draw nigh unto us.' 'Trust in the Lord at all times.' 'Blessed are they who put their trust in Him.' 'I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.' And relying always that 'On Christ the solid rock you stand; all other ground is sinking sand,' believe beyond a doubt, that He is faithful who has promised.
"I am getting far on in life and my lonely years will soon be gone. This brief letter I trust you will accept with my kindest love and best wishes for a bright and useful and prosperous New Year in all you find to do. It may be my last feeble year, but may yours by His mercy be lengthened out to the number that I have been spared to see if that be His will."
And in a last letter to one of her sons, written in a period of much suffering, she said,-
"Pray for me that pain may be abated and strength given for what may yet be. I do so love you all and wish I could see you again and hear your voice. But what He wills is wise and good and kind. And whatever comes may we all praise Him more and more."
On the 28th of February, 1906, this gracious and noble woman "fell on Sleep," leaving behind her the memory of a beautiful life. She had literally fulfilled the ideal of the virtuous woman, her husband indeed praised her, and her children rise up and call her blessed.
Of Robert Black equal testimony can be borne, for both in his private and public life he was in all things an upright and good man. The history of the Churches of Christ in London was for many years his history. He it was who established the little Church in Sydney Hall, Chelsea, out of which sprang the larger effort in College Street, Chelsea, and later still, the work known so well as the Twynholm Mission at Fulham Cross. His adherence to the tenets of the Churches of Christ remained unchanged throughout his life, for once assured that the truths offered for his acceptance were scripturally true, Mr. Black never looked back, but continued faithful to their simple, democratic, reasonable view of Church life and polity.
During the years of active business life Mr. Black had steadily refused, though repeatedly invited, to become an Elder of the Church, on the ground that he could not then devote the time to the Church's welfare that such a position demanded. In the year 1875, however, having retired from business, he consented to accept the position, and for thirty years he was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ in the highest office to which the Church could call him. He proved to be a worthy pastor, one who knew all the sheep in his fold, and lived amongst them. Counsellor, guide and friend, his were no formal visits. The Church's welfare was his daily thought, its needs he constantly supplied, its failures he mourned over as a father mourns for an erring son. Early and late, if the Church required him, he was ready to serve. Not a meeting was held but he would be there. The members looked to him in all their troubles; the house of joy, and still more the house of mourning, knew his kindly and comforting presence. Human need constantly called to him, and the poor and destitute were sure of aid if only he could be found. Thousands must have been helped, the record of which only heaven has kept. His advice was sought constantly on matters of difficulty, and he was ever ready to spend himself in the interest of others.
As a speaker Mr. Robert Black was no orator, yet his gentle, admonitory, persuasive speech always claimed for him the attention of his audiences. His Scottish accent, which he never lost, seemed designed to fit the nature of his words. The Psalms were specially dear to him, as they are to all true Scots. His addresses dealt almost entirely with the experimental side of Christian life, and were exhortations to holy living; for while he believed profoundly in the doctrines of the Church, he yet felt that the members needed to be directed more in the practical duties of life, so his speech was plain and easily understood. He had some delightful eccentricities and quaint mannerisms which, to think of now, touch the heart as with a happy memory. He was never afraid to speak to others of their soul's welfare, and must often have disconcerted his friends by his direct enquiry as to their personal standing before God. He was the means of bringing hundreds to a saving knowledge of Jesus, less by the power of his preaching than by the eloquence of his godly and devout life, and by the deep interest he showed in their salvation.
It greatly pleased him to see young men enthusiastically earnest in the work of the Church, and his opinion of and regard for them was in direct proportion to their regard for the things of God. There must be quite a number of those, who today are Evangelists under the auspices of the Churches of Christ, who can trace the beginning of their work to the advice and encouragement received from Mr. Black. He was held in the highest esteem by the Churches throughout the land, and at their Annual Conferences, any words of his were listened to with marked attention. In 1873 he was Chairman of the Conference held in Wigan.
In conversation on current topics of the day one soon discovered how strongly Radical were Mr. Black's views. The late Mr. Gladstone had no greater admirer than he: and he esteemed very highly that ardent and militant Nonconformist leader, Dr. Clifford, who was his friend. He had a scorn of meanness, and could not tolerate hypocrisy; clericalism he looked upon as the greatest disintegrating force in Christianity, and believed that if people would but study for themselves the Word of God, the unhappy divisions in the churches would soon cease. In his habits he was simple almost to severity, yet he was full of quiet and deep content. He could read character, was quick to discern between the real and the false. He was by no means austere, but could enjoy, with a Scotsman's peculiar pleasure, any harmless joke, and would laugh heartily at any story provided that it was free from malice or wrong suggestion.
The harmony that existed in the family was beautiful to see. None of his children would take any important step in their life without laying it before him. If he sometimes did not think it to be the wisest course for them, he would state his view of the case, but such was his confidence in his children that he rarely, if ever, found it necessary to oppose them.
The writer, privileged to enjoy twenty years of unbroken friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Black, cannot forget how much he owes to them: coming as he did to London, a young man scarcely out of his teens, he found in their counsel an inspiration to good. When the great city was bewildering in its multitudinous appeals to the low and base, their home was to him a place of refuge and repair. Their simple unaffected regard for the things of God taught him how real a thing the Christian life could be.
One cannot better close this brief epitome of these saintly lives than by quoting a paragraph from an address presented by their children on the occasion of their Golden Wedding in 1902.
"We acknowledge with deepest appreciation our lifelong debt to you both. You have indeed understood how to bestow the best gifts upon your children. We rejoice greatly as we recur to our invaluable heritage of sound minds and bodies; to the simple spiritual instruction of our earliest childhood; to the watchful and prayerful training which has shielded us, as a wall of fire, from the destructive vices of society; to the tender interest in our all-round welfare, which has never failed us, and has passed undiminished to our children; and to that eminent zeal for pure and undefiled religion, which has ever been, and still is, a daily source of strength and inspiration."
It was in their home, sanctified by their tender wisdom and gentle care, that Sydney, their eldest son, grew up, a sturdy, well-built lad. His early schooldays were spent at the Western Grammar School, off the Brompton Road, but, later, he went to the Nonconformist Grammar School at Bishop's Stortford, where he was as successful in athletics as in learning, for he not only proved a diligent student, but carried off the challenge cup for prowess in sports. He was foremost in Cricket and Football and in all the usual games of healthy lads; full of fun, yet with a vein of seriousness, which must have led him to often think about higher things, so that one learn with small wonder that, at the early age of thirteen, he had already decided that his life must be definitely surrendered to God. With such parents, home training, and influence, this was a natural outcome. Sydney was too shy or too overcome with the solemnity of his decision to speak of his desires to his parents, so he wrote to his mother, and told her of his wish to be baptised. The slip of paper was treasured by her to the day of her death. Surely no request is more to be rejoiced over by a mother, nor can there be one which should be more quickly approved. On his next return home from school, Sydney was immersed into Jesus at College Street Chapel, Chelsea, and for thirty years he witnessed a good confession.
These early days of his Christian life were those of an ordinary, healthy, happy lad. Without a trace of affectation or priggishness, he enjoyed life naturally; was a hero amongst his companions on account of his strength and skill in games, and was respected by them for his sense of honour and truth. He was conscious always that, since he was a Christian, he must never do anything mean, but play the man.
He left school at the age of sixteen with little more than an ordinary education, for his father took what he considered a practical view of the matter, and did not approve of his son continuing at school for any period longer than was necessary to fit him for his work as a draper, for he wished Sydney to come into his own business. The lad was apprenticed, for a short time, to Messrs. Shoolbred & Co., of Tottenham Court Road. Leaving there after the period of his apprenticeship was over, we find him occupying a position in Messrs. Peter Jones & Co., of Sloane Square, where he continued at the work designed for him by his father until he was called, in 1883, to the greater work appointed to him by God.
In these seven years of waiting Sydney Black was not idle, for his great ambition was to be a preacher and to serve the Church, hence he used all his leisure in study and preparation. On Sunday he would spend the whole day in active service in the meetings and at the school.
At the age of seventeen he preached his first sermon. No record exists of the text, the matter or the manner of this first address. Probably, to the hearers, it contained no hint of the powers which were to grow out of that timid first effort, except that one may be quite sure his mother would discern the beginning of great things and would be praising God in her heart for her boy's word. After this first essay in preaching, Sydney's ambition was intensified, and as the Church wisely encouraged the young man, he had many opportunities of developing and improving his undoubted gifts.
In 1882 he attended the Annual Conference of the Churches of Christ, which was held that year in Leicester. At that meeting a strong appeal was made to brethren, who had sons qualified by education and ability to do the work of an Evangelist, to allow them to be set apart for the work, and where possible to provide for them to do it. It was a memorable occasion, and the appeal moved the assembly with unmistakable power. It is certain that it deepened the desire which for years had been forming in the heart of Sydney Black, and led him within the following months to decide to give up all thoughts of a business life, and give himself wholly to the work of Gospel proclamation.
In the light of later years it is not surprising that he should come to this decision, for to any one who knew him and his burning zeal for active, aggressive Evangelism, it is almost inconceivable that he could have been much longer content with the routine and petty detail of a draper's shop. Yet the experience of life he had so far gained helped him in his chosen work, for he was specially interested in the shop and warehouse lads and young men of London, and by his sympathy and understanding of their trials and needs was successful in leading many into the better way.
In February, 1883, after a conference with his parents in which he laid before them his ambition to be wholly devoted to the service of God in the Evangelistic field, he started upon his first preaching campaign, happy in the knowledge of his father's hearty approval and support, and inspired by the memory of his mother's smile and benediction: "Go, my son, and the Lord be with you!"
CHAPTER II - FIRST EVANGELISTIC TOUR -
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IT is desirable, in view of references already made, and of many which will follow, that some account should here be given of the communities of Christian believers who are herein designated "Churches of Christ."
Early in the last century, Thomas Campbell, a Presbyterian Minister of the Succession Church, who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States, issued in the year 1809, a "Declaration and Address," in which he advanced reasons against all formulas of religious theory or opinion, and urged that the Word of God, divinely inspired, was all-sufficient for the salvation of man, the edification of the Church and the sanctification of the saint. As a result of the opposition in the Synod which this statement aroused, Thomas Campbell formally withdrew from the communion and fellowship of the Church, and, in company with a few of like mind, formed what was at first designated "The Christian Association" of Washington, whose object was the promotion of simple Evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinions and inventions of men. In this movement Thomas Campbell was joined by his son, Alexander, whose powerful and eloquent advocacy contributed greatly to the success of the cause in America.
In this country, at the same time, a similar movement had commenced in the Scotch Baptist Churches, influenced chiefly through the writings of William Jones, M.A., of London, in his magazine The Millennial Harbinger; but it was not until the year 1833 that Mr. Jones came into personal contact with "the Disciples" of America, through meeting, in London, Mr. Peyton C. Wyeth, who, as a friend of Alexander Campbell, was able to put Mr. Jones into communication with him.
From the correspondence thus begun between these able men, a more determined advocacy of Scripture truth followed, and as a result, a number of the Scotch Baptists left their former associates in order to form Churches of New Testament order. Amongst the earliest was James Wallis, of Nottingham, the grandfather of Sydney Black, who, with others, formed in 1836 the first gathering in this country to bear the name of "Church of Christ." Other Churches afterwards became associated under the same name, and in 1842 the first Conference was held at Edinburgh, when enquiry showed the existence of some 50 such Churches, with a membership of over 1300. After an interval of five years, a second Conference was called in 1847, and ever since a General Conference of Churches of Christ has been held annually up to the present year, 1911, when at Leicester 200 Churches reported a membership of nearly 15,000 members. The movement has made specially rapid progress in America, while it is well represented in Australia and New Zealand. The latest returns for the World show nearly 12,000 Churches with a membership of 1,350,000.
Within the limits of this short sketch it will be impossible to do more than present a brief outline of the propaganda of these Churches, and it is given here in order that the reader may understand the cause which was so enthusiastically espoused, and so strenuously maintained, by the subject of this book. The following is taken from an article written by Sydney Black in the Review of the Churches in March, 1893, and is interesting as showing both his manner of writing, and his view of the movement with which he was associated:-
"The 'Churches of Christ' are Churches set for the unqualified restoration of Primitive Christianity, in all its pristine simplicity and purity. In order to do this they discard and discountenance all human names, creeds, and confessions of faith. They maintain that the Christian institution was absolutely perfected, as to its faith, polity, ordinances and worship, from the first Pentecost after the ascension of our Divine Lord, until the death of the Apostle John, and that it is capable of no subsequent development or improvement. They hold, however, that in relation to the 'region of expediency' there is considerable latitude for diversity of method in applying Christianity to the special exigencies of the age and of the times in which we live. But there must be no violation of Christian principle. The principles of Christianity are inelastic. The methods of their application are by no means stereotyped.
"The Churches are one with Chillingworth in affirming that 'the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible contains the religion for Protestants.' Each Church is a self-governing, self-supporting and self-edifying body, and is independent of any conference, synod, council or other legislative assembly.
In their contention for the organic union of all obedient believers in the Son of God, the Churches hold the absolute essentiality of adopting the names, both as individuals and Churches, which are found in the New Testament Scriptures. They avoid any such distinctive names as Calvinists, Lutherans, or Baptists. As individuals they adopt such New Testament names as 'Christians,' 'Saints,' 'Disciples,' or 'Brethren,' while the congregations in their corporate capacity are known as 'Churches of Christ,' 'Churches of God,' or 'Churches of God in Christ.'
"In relation to human creeds, they hold their utter inutility on the following grounds: Firstly, if a creed contain more than is in the Bible, it contains too much. Secondly, if it contain less than is in the Bible, it contains too little. Thirdly, if it contain the same, then the inutility of the creed at once becomes apparent. And, fourthly, if intended to render the Bible more explicit as to what is to be believed in order to salvation, then they hold it impugns the wisdom and judgment of the Holy Spirit, who has vouchsafed to us a simple revelation of the Christian system in the New Testament.of Christ hold further that the only confession of faith recognised by the New Testament
"The Churches Scriptures is the 'rock' confession which Simon Peter made at Caesarea Philippi: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.' They maintain this to be an all-sufficient and all-embracing confession of faith, and that this great foundation truth must be confessed with the mouth in order to obtain the remission of sins.
"They also emphatically plead for the organic union of all followers of the Lord Jesus upon the well-known seven-fold basis enunciated by the Apostle to the Gentiles, in Ephesians iv. 4-6. 'There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of all, who is above all, through all and in you all.'
"In contending for this simple basis of union, they lay special emphasis upon speaking where the Scriptures speak, and being silent where the Scriptures are silent in all matters relating to the faith, institutions, and polity fo the Church of Christ. They plead that in things essential there must be unity; that in things doubtful, there must be liberty; while in all things, there must be unselfish love.
"In their proclamation of the saving Evangel they feel morally compelled to lay special stress upon the conditions of salvation laid down by Jesus Christ in His parting behest, and invariably enunciated by His inspired Apostles. They hold that there are several co-operating causes at work in the salvation of mankind. On the Divine side there is the moving cause - the pure, disinterested love of God. There is also the procuring cause - the free gift of the Divine Son. On the human side there is the qualifying cause - faith evolving a determination to follow the Lamb everywhere. There is also the receiving cause - the Heaven-appointed ordinance of Christian immersion. They use this last word because they reject both sprinkling and pouring, and take this course on the authority of the scholarship of the ages. They hold that baptism administered to believing penitents is, in the words of good old John Wesley, 'both a means and a seal of pardon,' and on this point they are pleased to propagate the teaching of that revered pioneer on Acts xxii. 16. Hence every member of this great movement is an immersed believer.
"The Churches of Christ discard completely what is rightly known as the 'one-man ministry.' They equally repudiate the idea of an 'all-man ministry.' They select and ordain elders as bishops to rule the Church; deacons and deaconesses to wait upon their respective ministries; and send forth evangelists as ex-officio members, labouring for special seasons with the various congregations The bishops are either professional men, commercial men, artisans, or independent gentlemen, who up to the present have invariably vouchsafed their services entirely unremunerated. Some of the evangelists are paid. They live to preach, and do not preach to live. The evangelists simply control and organise their own department of work, viz. evangelisation, and in no sense rule the Church. The Church, through the bishopric, governs her own affairs. Liberty to preach, teach, expound and exhort is extended to all members capable of edifying. Judgment as to capability is of course vested in the bishopric. The bishops are also of necessity the pastors who feed the flock of God. The work of Christian women is recognised and encouraged within the prescribed New Testament limits.
"The Disciples tenaciously believe that the New Testament enforces the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, and that this constitutes the great focus-point of the Christian institution. They hold that the Lord's Supper is only open to those who have attended to the Scriptural conditions of pardon, and are walking before God consistently. The Churches absolutely refuse any financial assistance for evangelistic, or distinctly ecclesiastical purposes, from the general public. The Lord's Supper and the Christian fellowship are co-extensive with membership in the Kingdom of favour. They are the exclusive prerogative of the Ecclesia of Christ. The members of the Churches are anxious, however, for the most part, to co-operate with all philanthropists and lovers of humanity in the various beneficent, social and rescue movements of the day."
The little town of Leominster, in the county of Hereford, was the scene of Sydney Black's first evangelistic effort. There would not seem to be much prospect of success for the establishment of a new Church in a small town of 7000 people, in which at the time there were already twelve different denominations, but it was the pleading of an earnest and devout sister, Mrs. Randall, who had formerly been a member of the Chelsea Church, that influenced Mr. Black in his decision to commence there. His coming and subsequent activity soon aroused much interest in the little place. The Town Hall was filled night after night by an audience at first curious to learn of the new Faith, but of whom many came later with awakened interest and enquiry to learn "if these things were so." The emphasis placed by the preacher upon "believers' immersion" aroused especial attention, which was greatly quickened by the altogether unusual sight of a public Immersion in the River Pinsley, on a Sunday afternoon in the month of March, 1883, before a concourse of considerably more than 1000 people. Four confessing believers in Christ thus obeyed the Saviour's command. Such a rite, conducted with the utmost solemnity and decorum, caused the religiously minded of the town to search the Scriptures, and many saw for the first time the place and importance of Baptism. Discourses were delivered to disprove its necessity by some of the Ministers of the surrounding Churches, but the influence of the young Evangelist was so strong that the meetings continued, and ultimately a Church was formed.
After some months of wholehearted labour, the work in Leominster was for a time continued by others, while Sydney Black, in company with his father, visited Paris, to which place he had been attracted by a remarkable work of evangelism begun and carried on by Monsieur and Madame Jules De Launay. By a close and independent study of the Word of God these two had arrived at practically the same view of truth as that held by the members of the Churches of Christ, and for some time they had carried on a successful Mission and had established a Church. One may be sure this work and its services were of great interest to the young English Evangelist. It would be wonderful to him to see the growth of a Church of simple New Testament Faith and order in a city almost wholly given over to pleasure and dominated religiously by what he would consider the negation of Christian truth, and we find in his letters such references to this work as show how it stirred his ardent, impulsive nature. Had his knowledge of the French language been but equal to his desire for service there is little doubt that Sydney Black would have been glad to have become a "fellow labourer" with the worthy founders of the Mission.
After this holiday change, Midsummer found Mr. Black back again in Leominster pursuing the energetic campaign of the early spring; immersions still followed his faithful testimony, and the Church grew steadily in numbers and in grace.
A year later we find the young preacher addressing large congregations both indoors and in the open air in the town of Kington, and, with more success, in the town of Ross, where he was instrumental in leading a close communion Baptist Church to assume the New Testament name, and to enter into co-operation with the Churches of Christ. During this period the work in Leominster was well maintained, in addition to Gospel Meetings in the surrounding villages. It was for Sydney Black a period of hard but happy work, supported as he was by the gratitude of those whose lives his message had changed, by the affection of his friends, and by the knowledge of his parents' prayers. He found an unrestrained delight in his labours for his Master and rejoiced that he was counted worthy to be the harbinger of the simple Truth through the countryside. It was good for him that he should have found his first sphere of work where the sweet air, fragrance and quietness would help him to discover his powers and to build up his body for the more strenuous years to come.
Early in 1885, in answer to an urgent invitation, Mr. Black began a special evangelistic effort in the city of York, preaching in the Victoria Hall and Corn Exchange. It would seem a bold thing to attempt to establish a new cause in a cathedral city, yet it was not without success, as in a few weeks a Church with a membership of more than forty believers was started. The next two years were mainly given to this work, the little flock growing steadily in numbers until it was found desirable to build Meeting House for a more permanent location.
The records show that during this period visits were paid to other centres where the enthusiasm and startling energy of the Evangelist aroused much attention. Many immersions followed his preaching in Gateshead-on-Tyne, Birmingham and Nottingham. At the last-named place he was present at the General Annual Meeting of the Churches, and presided with much acceptance over the Sunday School Session, delivering a highly practical and characteristic address, in which he anticipated the present-day appeal to the Churches to provide for and pay special attention to the young.
In addition to the care of the work in York, Mr. Black endeavoured to promote a Church in Scarborough, but without success. We find him also delivering discourses during the week in Knaresborough on such subjects as "The Great Commission," "The Church of Christ," "The Doom of Sectarianism," "Shall the Saviour's Prayer be answered?" Nothing could daunt his restless energy; at the least sign of an open door, Sydney Black at once plunged through to see what lay beyond. He had absolute faith in the message he was called upon to deliver, and with the optimism of youth backed by a fine animality he was ready to preach everywhere. No matter how unlikely of success the work at first might seem to prove, he would go on and leave the rest with God.
As an instance of his energy take the account of a week's visit to South Wigston, near Leicester, in April, 1887. Fifteen set discourses were delivered in the period, with shorter addresses in the villages in railway workshops and in a boot factory. Working men had a high place in the regard of the young preacher, and wherever he could find an opportunity to speak to them he always did so. At York, by the permission of the General Manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, he regularly addressed hundreds of their employees in the dinner-hour, and throughout his life his influence over the workers was always most marked. He seemed to have the power of arresting their attention, and of inducing them to seriously consider their standing before God. There are many such men today, stalwart upholders of their Master's Name, pillars in the Church of God, who owe their first impulse towards holiness to the word of Sydney Black.
In addition to the places referred to, we find a work begun in 1888, in Harrogate, easily accessible, owing to its proximity to York. Here the Albert Hall was taken, and interesting meetings held. In a few weeks over fifty were added to the Church.
Not content with this, Mr. Black is found preaching at Wortley and Bradford, stirring up existing Churches, infusing new life and hope by his buoyant faith and determined advocacy. Visits were also paid to Dewsbury and Batley.
Early in 1888 the thoughts of the Evangelist began to turn to his native city, and we find him in the month of May of that year, back again in London, after five years' absence in the provinces. These years were perhaps the happiest in his life: difficulties did not exist, doubts did not assail, health was buoyant and forces never tired. It was specially fitting, therefore, that Sydney Black should offer his life at its best to the most desperate problem which has ever confronted Christian men, the Evangelisation of London. He brought to this all the gathered experience of his first five years, his strength of body, his clearness of mind and his boundless energy. The Town Hall in the King's Road, Chelsea, was taken and filled on thirty-two Sunday evenings by a crowd of interested hearers, and the services proved fruitful of much good. More than one hundred were immersed, the local papers gave much prominence to the work, and something in the nature of a revival spread throughout the neighbourhood, for other Churches experienced a quickening of life. Every household in the locality was visited and much discussion followed on the New Testament Church and the way of admission thereinto.
The services in the Town Hall were held at intervals during 1888-1889, and were destined to prove the foundation of the permament work in West London known later as the "Fulham Cross Mission," to which lengthy reference will afterwards be made. From this time the claims of London began to be more and more pressing, and upon the spiritual ear of Sydney Black there seems to have fallen the cry of the vast, suffering, sinning, multitude; for, during the next two years, though we find him preaching elsewhere, he is more often in London, encouraging the converts of his Town Hall Mission, talking of a possible permanent work, planning how to raise the money needful, debating whether he should visit the American and Australian Churches in order to arouse their interest and sympathy. The idea was there, and with him to have a glimpse of a possibility was at once to plan a way to make it a certainty.
The desire for a permanent centre of Evangelistic and Social Work in London was further strengthened by contact with a little Mission conducted by working-lads held at 17, Field Road, Fulham, where he had been invited to give an Anniversary Address. In such a neighbourhood it was a wonderful thing that a mere handful of lads, very ignorant of everything save the one thing which constitutes true wisdom, should be found, as they were, in a dingy basement room, intent on the salvation of their companions and associates, and eager to follow Jesus. To these lads, the eager, affectionate, impetuous speaker came as a very messenger from Heaven; they hung on his every word, and as he declared the whole counsel of God, without hesitation they accepted the fuller light and joined in Christian fellowship with the Church in College Street, Chelsea, continuing, however, as a Mission Centre in Field Road, until they removed to a more suitable and commodious room in Greyhound Road.
About this time Mr. Black first became acquainted with Miss Mary Hugill, of Chelsea, who had for years superintended and carried on a "Preventive and Rescue Home for Women." This lady had for some time been interested in New Testament Christianity, as a result of her attendance at the Town Hall Meetings. After much thought she decided to unite with the Church of Christ in College Street, and, not content with her own joy, she taught others the better way, so that in December, 1889, she, with eleven others, her helpers and several of those she had rescued, were added to the Church. This brought Sydney Black into touch with a terrible side of London life, and if anything were needed to confirm him in his intention to commence a work in London, the facts and experience he now gained were more than sufficient to do so.
The thought of such an enterprise seems to have created a sense of insufficiency in his mind. How could he with his limited opportunities and education hope to succeed where others of far more brilliant parts had failed? In his answer to this question we can discern something of the belief in himself, based upon his unbounded faith in God, which always characterised him. He could improve himself educationally by a course of study at Oxford, afterwards the opportunity would be made clear to him.
With his mind full of the possibilities of a great work for God in London, Mr. Black left for Oxford in September, 1889, to take a course of private tuition under Professor W.H. Fairbrother, M.A., of Keble College, and to attend his lectures at Lincoln College, as also those of Principal Dr. A.M. Fairbairn at Mansfield College. To both of these thinkers, Mr. Black constantly acknowledged his indebtedness, and always referred to the training and knowledge he gained as of incalculable service to him. His stay in Oxford was not long, for he was too impatient and eager to begin his work in the greater world of London to spent precious hours in the Lecture Halls and shades of the classic city. In a sense it was a pity, for a year or two of close study would probably have harnessed his enthusiasm, and shown him the way to use his great powers with more conservation of energy. He might have lived longer had he learned to brook the wise restraint of ordered study. But it was not to be. Preach he must, and would. During his stay in Oxford, he was frequently to be heard at the Martyrs' Memorial, in St. Giles, declaring the way of Christ and His Apostles. Those who knew him during this period have spoken to the writer of the high esteem in which he was held by students and Professors alike.
During the time the London scheme was forming and maturing in Mr. Black's mind, he was busily preaching and lecturing through the country, in addition to the special services he was holding at intervals in London. We find him at South Wigston in the spring of 1889, at Leominster in May of the same year, at Bettws-Diserth, in Radnorshire, shortly afterwards, ever proclaiming the same evangel with the force and energy of a son of thunder. In August of this year at the Annual Conferences of the Churches of Christ, held at Leicester, he read the Conference Paper on "The Position and Work of Sisters in Evangelisation," in which he advocated the right of Sisters to liberty of speech in all public.work, both within the Church and in the world. The paper was marked by all the peculiarities of language and hyperbolism which were so characteristic of the writer, yet it carried conviction to many; and though at the time the older brethren antagonised his conclusions vigorously, he had sown a seed, the fruit of which became evident in the year 1911, when at the Annual Conference held in the same town, Sisters were to be seen on the platform, addressing the gatherings, supporting resolutions, and were elected to serve on several of the Standing Committees of the brotherhood. Time's revenge, of a truth!
The year 1890 was a busy one for the Evangelist. In the intervals afforded by the several vacations of his Oxford course, Mr. Black was mainly occupied at Leominster, arranging for the General Annual Conference to be held there in August. It was a bold thing for the little Herefordshire Church to undertake to provide for and entertain the two hundred or so of brethren who would assemble, and it is true to say that it was only due to the enthusiasm of Sydney Black that the idea had first been entertained and afterwards so successfully carried out. In July of the same year he is again at South Wigston holding a Ten Days' Tent Mission with great success. Nearly 4000 people from the district round were reached and lasting good realised by many.
With the coming of August the Annual Meeting fully claimed Mr. Black's attention, and after the "hardest three weeks of his life" the Conference was a triumphant success. On this occasion the Churches decided upon a bold and vigorous forward movement, in an endeavour to raise 5000 during the ensuing year, to be expended upon Evangelisation, incited thereto chiefly by the eloquence of Sydney Black, who further urged the wisdom of personal appeal by deputations to the Churches. To this advocacy he devoted the autumn and winter, visiting many towns and delivering in two months no less than sixty-four discourses, urging upon the Churches greater generosity and enterprise in the work of making known the glorious Gospel of the Grace of God. These meetings were productive of great good, and kindled a flame of desire for bold and more aggressive effort. The whole community felt the influence of the impassioned appeals of the young Evangelist, and from Carlisle in the North to Hastings in the South, came promises of financial help with many other tokens of awakened interests. Mention must also be made of a Ten Days' Gospel Mission, undertaken in the month of December of this year in the town of Nottingham, at the request of the United Gospel Mission, the P.S.A. Class, and the Young Men's Christian Association. The meetings held in the Albert Hall and the Circus Street Hall aroused great interest in the town: thousands thronged to hear the Gospel Message presented in what, to most, would be a new and striking manner. New Testament truth was made clear to many with the result that some were constrained to confess their Lord in Believers' Immersion, amongst them a young lady missionary who was leaving in a few days for service in China under the China Inland Mission. Mr. Black's ministry was warmly approved, even by many not in church fellowship with him, for its large views of truth and for the intense earnestness of his appeals for personal consecration. To use the words of the President of the Joint Mission Committee, Mr. Black was commended as "being eminently fitted to tell out the story of the Gospel, to expound Scripture Truth, to win Christian people to seek a further knowledge of God's Word and to devote their hearts and lives to His Service." In all, some 13,000 people were present at the seventeen services.
At Leominster Annual Meeting the opportunity for laying the foundation of the London Mission upon which he had set his heart came to Sydney Black through a conversation he had with a Mr. Illingworth of Melbourne, Australia, who had been deputed to convey the Greetings of the Australian Churches to the Sister Churches of this country. Confiding to Mr. Illingworth his great desire for the establishment of such a work, and at the same time laying before him some of his difficulties as to ways and means, Mr. Black was warmly encouraged to visit Australia, and was assured that he would receive a hearty welcome and the interest and financial support of the Australian Churches in the Mission Scheme. The thought of a world-wide tour amongst the Churches of Christ had for some time been in Mr. Black's mind, and it only needed the suggestion and approval of Mr. Illingworth, to cause him to begin such a tour immediately. He would preach Christ in as many lands as he could; that should be his first business; after that he would plead for the poor, the degraded, the hopeless and forlorn of London. To decide with Sydney Black was to begin, so without any delay all necessary arrangements were made, and on a cold dark morning in February, 1891, he started on his tour round the world.
CHAPTER III - ROUND THE WORLD -
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THERE are few things more calculated to enlarge the mind, quicken the imagination, and deepen sympathy in the ways and affairs of men than a tour of the world. It was indeed a happy thing for the subject of this biography that he was able, through the generosity of his parents, to undertake such a journey. The enforced quietness of life on board the S.S. Oceana gave him much needed rest for mind and body, and enabled him to think over in detail the scheme he was so eager to promote, and to prepare for the arduous campaign of the months to come. One may be sure that to one of his ardent and enthusiastic temperament, the voyage would be one of intense interest. He would be finding on every hand matter for thought, subject for illustration and confirmation of the great need for Gospel grace in the lives of men. It is a pity that no letters or notes relating to his voyage remain.
Mr. Black arrived in Adelaide on, or about, 15th March, 1891, and remained on the Australian mainland until the middle of the following October, spending four months in Victoria, five weeks in New South Wales, three weeks in South Australia, and two weeks in Queensland. The city of Melbourne received the greater part of Mr. Black's ministry. During his stay of three months he was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Davies. Mrs. Davies was formerly married to Mr. Thomas Hughes Milner, Evangelist of the Churches of Christ in Great Britain, a man who had left a deep influence upon the churches, both by the clearness of his teaching and the piety of his life. His early death was a great loss to the community. Mrs. Davies gladly received the young preacher, and his stay at her hospitable home was amongst the pleasantest recollections of his tour. Mrs. Davies is happily still living, and active in every good work.
Mr. Black's labours in Melbourne were abundant. Considerably over one hundred set addresses were delivered, at first in the Collingwood Town Hall and later in Swanston Street Chapel, where the services were so successful that it was decided to close the Meeting House and take the Theatre Royal for four Lord's Days. Here the interest aroused by the English Evangelist was so great that over 12,000 people crowded into the meetings to hear the good news of salvation, and hundreds were turned away from the doors. From a record of the meetings taken from an Australian paper we learn that:-
"The preacher delivered four very able and impressive discourses on the following subjects, in the order given, 'Love's Wonderful Gift,' 'The Captive's Vision of God,' 'The Great Revolution of Life,' and 'The Triumph of Unselfish Love.'"
His message, his manner, and breezy personality soon won the regard of the Australian brethren, his visits were triumphal in their nature, and the expressions of appreciation contained in the journals published by the brotherhood were all most laudatory. The West London Mission was in no way forgotten, for it was part of Mr. Black's programme to devote one evening at each Church he visited to a detailed statement of his aims and hopes for the new work. He succeeded so well in this that he was able to obtain about 1000 towards his scheme, a decided proof of the generosity and sympathy of the Australian Churches for the poor and sinful of the Old Country, as well as a testimony to the enthusiasm of the pioneer of the Mission.
Nor did his public advocacy from the platform exhaust Sydney Black's efforts in the good cause, for we find him, by means of interviews, obtaining a hearing in the columns of the daily press for an exposition of the truths he loved to proclaim. In addition, his pen was busy writing articles for English papers, and in conducting correspondence in the local papers on various questions that arose out of his addresses, and had aroused public opinion at the time.
In South Australia also success awaited Mr. Black. Large and interested meetings were held in the Town Hall at Adelaide. Local churches were visited, and every moment of the short stay used to the full, in the proclamation of the Gospel, and in the advocacy of the Mission. In Adelaide the pleasure of his visit was greatly enhanced by the fact that he was the guest of Dr. Joseph C. Verco, with whom he had spent happy days in London, when Dr. Verco was resident there, and a member of the Chelsea Church.
From Adelaide Mr. Black made his way to the Colony of New South Wales, and speedily found himself engaged in a special mission held in the Central Protestant Hall, Sydney, where in five weeks, twenty-seven meetings were addressed, and many thousand persons reached by the message. In addition to this effort, all the Churches in the surrounding districts were visited. Here the preacher laid aside his work for four days to camp in the bush in the Blue Mountains, and to visit the famous Jenolan Caves.
Nor was the Colony of Queensland forgotten, and the brethren at Brisbane were not a whit behind the others in the warmth of their welcome.
It would be tedious to prolong the record of the work undertaken in Australia by Mr. Black. Everywhere he was received with unmistakable welcome, everywhere he departed amidst expressions of loving regard, carrying with him happy memories of a warmhearted brotherhood, eager for the prosperity of Zion, practically sympathetic to his plea for the multitudes of London, and true to the Faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Leaving the Australian mainland Mr. Black determined to sail to New Zealand by way of Tasmania, and to visit Hobart and Launceston. In both of these places he was received with warm welcome by the delighted brethren. Of his visit to Hobart the following account, which appeared in the columns of The Australian Christian Standard, will serve both to show the manner of his work and the influence he was able to exert:
"We have been encouraged and strengthened during the past three weeks by the visit of our gifted brother, Sydney Black, of London. He preached on three Lord's Day evenings to large and attentive audiences in the Temperance Hall (the largest hall in the city), and it was a sight to be remembered to see the hundreds of upturned eager faces drinking in the wonderful words of life, that poured in a perfect torrent of eloquence from the lips of our brother. His burning words and intense earnestness compelled the attention of his audience. The 'Old, Old Story' gathered beauty as he told it, and stirred the hearts of many to their depth. A spirit of enquiry has been aroused by brother Black's visit, and New Testament Truth has been brought prominently before the public, both by the meetings and the press. One local Editor placed a column of his paper at Mr. Black's disposal, and through it a full explanation of the principles and teaching of the Churches of Christ were sent broadcast through the City.
"Brother Black endeared himself to all who had the good fortune to hear him in public or to meet him in private. His straightforward and manly character won him the respect of everybody, whether of like opinion in matters of religion or not. The earnest wish of the brotherhood here is, that he may soon see his way to once more visit us, and reanimate us by his unbounded zeal for Christ."
A wish, alas! never to be realised.
On 19th November, Sydney Black sailed for New Zealand in the S.S. Talme. The voyage is interesting for the fact that on board he fell in with Dr. Charles A. Berry, of Wolverhampton, the well-known Congregational Minister of Queen Street Chapel, with whom his intercourse would appear to have been of the friendliest nature, for in a letter written about this time, Mr. Black speaks of the delightful and edifying conversations they had together.
Four days later Mr. Black reached Invercargill and immediately took up his work again, preaching in Hannan's Hall. The Chuch here was not a large one, but it seized every opportunity to use the service of the English visitor with good results. A week later he was in Mataura where his intense earnestness and his unconventional manner appears to have roused great interest, for he had large and appreciative audiences and favourable notices from the daily press. The Southern Standard of Otago not only gave an extended account of an interview with Mr. Black, but also in a subsequent issue devoted two columns to a descriptive sketch of one of the services, in which, describing Mr. Black's appearance, it said:
"Mr. Black is as unministerial in outline as a man could well be. No broadcloth coat, no Oxford waistcoat, no M.B. collar, nothing to give a person the slightest inkling that he is a religious teacher."
In this statement the reporter has touched upon one of Sydney Black's strong characteristics: his utter dislike of anything that savoured of clericalism in attire, in manner, or in title. It grieved him to have the title "Reverend" prefixed to his name, for he held that the word was nowhere in the Scripture applied to man, but only to God.
Dunedin was the scene of his next labours. Here Mr. Black remained for over three weeks preaching in the Tabernacle and City Hall. On New Year's Day, 1892, he reached Oamaru, where he had the joy of meeting with an old friend, one whom he had known in his boyhood, Mr. Henry Exley, Evangelist, with whom he spent several happy days, even though his host at the time was in a condition of ill-health. The intercourse of the aged saint, whose days were fast closing, with the enthusiastic, earnest young preacher must have been peculiarly blessed to both. To the old man, the sight of one in strength and buoyant energy carrying on the work he loved and had lived for would be a cause of deep thankfulness; while to the young man the influence of one so near to the end of his pilgrimage would but deepen his own desire to serve and to be used for God's glory. Of this visit Sydney Black wrote:-
"He (Mr. Exley) is an old traveller and missionary, and his experience is very ripe and extensive. Our communion with him was sweet indeed. May he long be spared to labour for his Lord."
Alas! for human wishes. Only a few years remained for both. The young warrior and the aged saint were both soon to be called to their rest. Their warfare was even then nearly accomplished.
A short tour amongst the smaller Churches on the West Coast of the South island followed. Greymouth, Ross, Hokitika and Brunnerton all received a visit. In Ross, after services in the Presbyterian Church, six persons desired baptism, and three days later were immersed in the Totara River in the presence of an intensely interested throng, to whom such an incident was altogether unique.
After a visit to Nelson, Mr. Black completed his tour of the South Island by a short stay in Christchurch, where the brethren had taken the Theatre Royal for the special services. In addition to his Gospel addresses, he spoke also at a great Temperance Demonstration in the same building, to what he termed "the most enthusiastic audience he had faced in the Colonies."
Crossing to the North Island, we next find him at Wellington, where again the ordinary resources of the Meeting Houses would have proved too small for the audiences who gathered, and the Opera House was engaged. From this place he moved on to Auckland, which was to be the last place in his Colonial wanderings. Here once more an Opera House was requisitioned, and again followed the same success in arousing and holding the attention of the people by the Gospel message. At Auckland Mr. Black was privileged to meet and reside with his uncle, Caleb Wallis, his mother's youngest brother. This visit was in all respects a happy termination of his Island adventures.
The four months of his New Zealand tour had been busy ones for Sydney Black. Crowded with work, every day brought its new experience of places and people. The brethren, delighted with their visiting brother from the Old Country, vied with each other in their endeavours to make his stay a happy one, while they rejoiced in the inspiration and uplift of his brave, strong personality and service. Little time could be spared for mere sight-seeing, for we can only find mention of a four-days' coaching trip through the Otira Gorge and the Buller River Valley, and a day at the goldfields of Ross and Kumara, where the Evangelist - turned gold-digger - was able to accumulate a fortune of seven pennyweights of the precious metal.
On 26th March, 1892, Mr. Black sailed by the S.S. Alameda for San Francisco. Of his wanderings across the Continent of America the records are few and scattered, so that the chronicler can only give an imperfect account of his work there. After preaching and lecturing in San Francisco, Denver, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs, we find him at Salt Lake City, Utah, where his visit created something like a sensation amongst the Disciples of Christ in that place. The following extract from a letter, written by Mr. F.B. Clay, will give an idea of the impression his preaching made upon the American brethren. He writes:-
"Yesterday Mr. Black preached for us both morning and evening, and it has seldom been my pleasure to hear such splendid presentations of the Truth. He fairly electrified the audiences with his great plea for more unselfish love in our lives and labours. He is a most earnest and faithful preacher of the Word. He is quite conservative on some points, but treats with fairness the convictions of those who differ from him. He is a man of power and is sure to do great good in the world. His personal presence is splendid, his spirit excellent, and his earnestness contagious and inspiring. Give him a cordial welcome."
This is interesting because the writer indicates what was one of the paradoxes of Sydney Black's character, his conservatism in matters of faith allied with his radicalism in all that pertained to the social and political side of life.
Mr. Black's visit to Des Moines, in the State of Iowa, was perhaps the most interesting episode of his American travels. It is a city in which the Disciples of Christ, with a membership of 3000 souls, are at the head of the Protestant Churches. They had four Meeting Houses at the time, and in addition to their Gospel propaganda, were interested in social and mission work. In this city also is situated the Drake University, one of the principal theological colleges maintained by the Churches of Christ in America. Mr. Black reached Des Moines on 14th May, 1892, and received a hearty welcome from the brethren. Of his preaching and the interest created by the man and his message, let the following extract from a letter by Mr. A.E. Cory bear witness. Mr. Cory writes:-
"On Lord's Day morning, 15th May, Brother Black was prevailed upon to preach in the University Church. It was a great audience and a great sermon. Those who were fortunate enough to hear this sermon were thrilled and delighted. Our Brother's fervid oratory and methods of exegesis drew all those who listened to him once to hear him again. He preached again at night by urgent request, in the same Church, which was thronged with over 1000 souls, of whom several hundreds were University students. His subject was 'God's relevation to men, God's incarnation among men, God's impartation of Himself to men.' On the following Tuesday morning our Brother lectured to the Drake students on his tour. Over and over again did prolonged applause greet his words of wit, philosophy and eloquence. From the first time be appeared before the Drake faculty and students to the last, he was greatly loved and admired. On the same afternoon our visitor gave a lecture to the Bible College students on 'The Relation of the Christian Church to the work of the Social Salvation of the Masses.' A very large audience was in attendance. On Wednesday night Brother Black preached at the Central Church. The discourse was an eloquent exegesis of the Johannine conception of the nature of evil. At this service our Brother was induced to remain over a second Lord's Day. Thus on the following Lord's Day he preached for Dr. Hobbs in the East Des Moines Meeting House. The place was filled to overflowing with the most cultured people of the city. Brother Black seemed to drink in the spirit of the occasion, and delivered, in the opinion of some, his finest sermon in Iowa on 'The Judgment that begins at the House of God.' In the afternoon our Brother addressed a mass meeting of all the Disciples of Christ in the City in the Central Church. His subject was 'The Forward Movement in the Churches of Christ in Great Britain,' and for over an hour the audience sat in rapt and sympathetic attention. At the close of the discourse $1000 were forthcoming for the work in London. As had been previously announced, our Brother delivered his last sermon in the evening. The large auditorium and galleries were filled to overflowing with 1400 people. Our Brother's last effort was a grand one. Some declared it to be the greatest sermon ever delivered in the Central Church. The hearts of the people were touched as seldom before. The prayers of the brethren follow him in his noble work for the Master. May God bless him wherever he goes, and in every enterprise for the uplifting of mankind, for he is a great and good man."
We next hear of Sydney Black in July, at Detroit, in the State of Michigan, where the welcome he received was not a whit less cordial than he had experienced elsewhere. The same earnestness on his part evoked an answering response from those he addressed. A visit to Niagara followed, and the sight of the great Falls appears to have much impressed Mr. Black, for he seems to have delighted his American friends by his enthusiastic declaration that Niagara was the grandest scene in all his travels.
Later we hear of Mr. Black paying a visit to the State of Maine and there interviewing the veteran of the Prohibition Cause, General Neal Dow.
Bridgeport, in the State of Connecticut, was another place of call. Here he met with Mr. Charles Abercrombie, who, as an Evangelist at one time in the service of the British Churches, had laboured in the Gospel with much acceptance, chiefly in Scotland. The older Evangelist was much attracted by his visitor, and reported in glowing terms the pleasure the visit had been to him and the Church. Everywhere throughout the States the record is the same. Sydney Black came, preached and won the affectionate regard of the brotherhood, as much by his singleness of aim and the sincerity of his manner as by the fervour of his preaching.
In September we find Mr. Black in Alleghany City in the State of Pennsylvania, where he addressed large audiences. His dislike of everything clerical was shown here. An evening paper had announced his services as by the Rev. Sydney Black, of London, England. In the evening, before commencing his address, Mr. Black took occasion to repudiate the title, saying with characteristic bluntness:-
"Believing as I do in the universal priesthood of all obedient believers in our Divine Redeemer, I know of no hierarchy of priests and ministers in the Christian Church. Every immersed believer here tonight is a priest. Every immersed believer here tonight is a Christian minister. I never dabble in prefixes nor affixes of any description."
Mr. Black observed this principle thoroughly, and refused to take advantage of the reduction in fares usually granted by the railway companies in America to ministers of the Gospel. On one occasion when purchasing some articles of clothing he was offered by the seller a discount from the price, because he was a preacher. His surprise was great, but the astonishment of the shopkeeper was even greater when Mr. Black indignantly refused to pay one penny less than an ordinary customer. He never could understand any one making a gain of the Gospel.
This almost fierce spirit of independence dominated him all his life. He never accepted any money for any sermon or service of his, but spent himself freely, ungrudgingly, willingly, because of the great love he bore for his Redeemer and his God.
After a pleasant visit to his kinsfolk in Pittsburg, he sailed from New York in the S.S. Majestic, arriving in Liverpool on the 17th November, 1892, after an absence of nearly two years.
The advantage that this pilgrimage conferred upon Mr. Black was incalculable. It widened his mental horizon, intensified his faith in the message of Redeeming Grace and his belief in the principles of New Testament Truth, emphasised by the Church he served. His love of the brethren, always strong, was deepened by the intimacy and new friendships formed with so many good men in the Colonies and America. He ever after spoke in terms of warmest admiration of the Churches in those countries.
If he were optimistic when knowing only the small and almost unnoticed communities of Christians in this country professing a like faith with himself, after his tour and contact with the larger and more flourishing Churches throughout the world, his belief in the possibilities of the movement for the Restoration of Primitive Christianity became unbounded. With him, faith laughed at difficulties and cried, "It shall be done."
CHAPTER IV - THE CALL OF LONDON -
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ON the western edge of London, partly girdled by the river, lies a vast area of small houses, inhabited by many thousands of persons, most of whom are but one degree removed from the poverty line. So long as trade is good and business brisk, they can manage, with some degree of cheerfulness, to maintain themselves and their families, but should a fortnight's illness overtake them, or should there be a falling off in the trade in which they find employment, then for a time it is the end of all things; and, except for the wonderful charity which exists between the poor, many would find their refuge, most hated and most feared, in the Workhouse.
In Fulham, there are miles of streets peopled for the most part by honest, hardworking toilers in the great City; people whose lives have little of brightness, whose work and hours of labour effectually prevent any possibility of mental or social improvement; whose days are spent in one long struggle to make ends meet, and whose nights are troubled by fears of what the morrow may bring. The streets in the summer days are close and squalid. In the winter the greasy footpath and the fog-laden atmosphere cause the most cheerfully inclined to shiver under the gloom, and to marvel at the patience or the stolidity of the inhabitants. The only signs of brightness are at the street corners, where the brilliantly lighted gin palaces captivate the imagination and arouse the appetite of the weary and nerve-worn, whose powers of resistance, already enfeebled by the conditions of their daily toil and the squalor of their home life succumb all too quickly to the warmth and odours which assail them through the ever-swinging doors. It is a district in which there is no rest, no quiet, and no privacy. All day long the neighbourhood is hideous with the raucous cries of the costers or the shrill shouting of the myriad children whose playground is the street. Space is too valuable in the place they call home. Rents are high and the lodger, who nearly pays the rent, must have the only room where the children might have played. There is a steamy atmosphere of constant washing in nearly every street, and the tickets in the windows speak of the tragedy of widows whose only means of livelihood is to be charwoman or sempstress; or, more pathetic still, there is the notice of "music lessons given," which speaks of a descent from a higher social plane into this region of dreadful night.
For the most part religion occupies little, of any, place in the thoughts of the dwellers in this region. It is not that they are hostile as that they are totally indifferent. There probably is a God, but He is too much concerned with the affairs of the well-to-do and the comfortable to be mindful of them. The labourer in his pitiable home, or the struggling clerk so wrought upon to maintain the appearance of respectability upon the wages of the carter, are both too tired, too depressed or too indifferent to care for religion, or to respond to the appeals of the parochial visitor or the tract distributor. Sunday, for many of the fathers, means half the day in bed, a dinner, and the evening spent in the public house. The children may be sent to Sunday School, but it is so that father may sleep undisturbed or mother may not be hindered in her culinary operations. In some cases there will still linger in the mind of the mother memories of her girlhood's days, where in her country home she had been taught to "remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy"; and it is from women with such recollections, in whose soul the spark of desire for the better life is not quite stamped out by the iron heel of their bitter surroundings, that the audiences which are to be found in the Chapels and Mission Halls in this district are largely drawn.
Let it not be thought that Fulham is one of the worst of the poor suburbs of London, far from it. It has an able Council and its affairs are conducted with prudence and care, but it is a district in which poverty and distress abound, and where modern improvements in sanitation and sewage do not avail against the tremendous pressure of economic forces.
It was this district, so typical of the London that is unknown to the casual visitor, which was selected by Sydney Black as the centre for his Evangelistic enterprise. London claimed him; it was his birthplace; he had seen the Light of Life there; his halting first appeal to men to come to Christ had been made in Chelsea; his parents lived there; everything called to him to dedicate his energy and his enthusiasm to the greatest problem which confronts the Churches of this country, the salvation of London. Mr. Black knew and appreciated the virtues of its people, their quick-wittedness, their kindness, their response to loving, disinterested service. Their very superficiality had its charm for him. Nor did his love for them go without return, for in Fulham, where for ten years be laboured so arduously and so well, he was everywhere beloved, especially by the poor and by the children of the streets. He had started on his tour of the world with a vision of a London to be made a City of the Heavenly King; he came back to find it still in darkness, and apparently as unresponsive to the Christian appeal as ever.
Nothing daunted by the difficulties which confronted him, by the apparent impossibility of permanently influencing the vast city, Mr. Black's faith in God and in the power of the Cross was so firm that he never once stayed to ask if it could be done. If he could not achieve all he desired, he could do something for the One who had saved him, he could help a few in the great city. His plans were always ambitious, but he would not refuse to do the lesser work if the greater were denied him. A favourite sentence of his was William Carey's "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God," and it was in this spirit that he set to work to establish the Mission in London, for which he had collected over £1000 during his tour of the world. His decision to found the Mission in Fulham was taken after visits of enquiry to many other districts in London, and after consultation with his youngest brother, Mr. Robert Wilson Black, from whom he received the greatest assistance in the planning and carrying on of the work, and through whose ability and consecrated enthusiasm the Mission has been efficiently maintained since the death of its founder.
Whilst enquiry was being made in London as to the best locality for the projected Mission, Sydney Black was undertaking a tour amongst Churches of the homeland, preaching and lecturing in Liverpool, Swindon, Nottingham, Wigan, and Birmingham, to large and interested audiences. In April, 1893, he was in Glasgow, where for three weeks he carried on a series of highly successful meetings with audiences of upwards of 1000 persons. In his conduct of Evangelistic work, Mr. Black was not content to be the preacher, he would be found at the street corners delivering handbills announcing his own meetings, or calling from house to house inviting the people to attend. For him there was nothing common nor mean in the service of God; he was one who was ever ready to say:-
"The hardest toil to undertake
With joy at Thy command,
The meanest office to receive
With meekness at Thy hand.
His services in Glasgow were much appreciated by the Churches, and his eager enthusiasm aroused a corresponding interest in his brethren. It was apparent to those who knew him that his ability as a preacher had become greater through the experience he had gained during his Colonial and American tour. Probably at this time his powers were at their zenith. London had not yet tried his sympathy and taxed his energy as it was to do in the years to follow.
Fulham Cross, which was to become the centre of Sydney Black's activities for the remaining ten years of his life, is a converging point of five roads in the West of London. It is a busy spot at all times, and only during the early hours of the morning is there any cessation of noise and traffic. At the corner of the Lillie Road, there had stood for thirteen years a large and imposing building, originally intended for a Gin Palace, but, owing to the licence being withheld, used as a Coffee House and known in the neighbourhood as the "Queen Anne." This building was offered to Mr. Black for the sum of £2250, and, as it was eminently adapted by its position and accommodation for the purposes of the proposed Mission, it was promptly purchased by him. Of the sum required, £1000 had already been given by the Australian and American brethren; his father, Mr. Robert Black, contributed a like amount, and the remainder was provided by interested friends. The one-time "Queen Anne" was re-named "Twynholm House" after the little Scottish village in which the father of Mr. Black was born. The premises were largely altered, the basement re-arranged to admit of its being used as a School Room and Soup Kitchen, and, on what had been originally designed for a brewer's yard, there was erected a handsome and commodious Assembly Hall, capable of seating 500 people. The main building provided Class Rooms, Club Rooms and a Coffee Bar. The whole place when finished proved to be very suitable for the work undertaken. While the building alterations were going on, a series of Evangelistic meetings were held in the Fulham Town Hall to prepare the way for the permanent work to be carried on soon after in Twynholm Hall. It was not, however, without controversy that the use of the Town Hall was obtained, for the Borough Council had hitherto declined to let the Hall for religious meetings on the Lord's Day; but, with that energy which always characterised him, Mr. Black pressed the matter so persistently that the Council gave way, and the meetings were held, greatly helped by the gratuitous advertisement which the discussion in the public press had given. The writer was privileged to take part in these meetings and can testify to the close and absorbed attention with which the crowded audiences listened to the burning eloquence of the preacher.
Click here for a photograph of Twynholm Mission, Fulham Cross, London, UK. 73 Kb.
As a further means of attracting attention to the new Mission centre a little monthly paper known as Joyful Tidings was started. This little sheet has been issued ever since and is highly appreciated by the people in the neighbourhood. Five thousand copies were sent out every month without charge; and to many, its bright, helpful, inspiring pages have been a means of encouragement and grace. After the first year Sydney Black conducted the paper until his death, and its pages during those years as a faithful reflex of his temperament, his outlook, and his methods.
The new enterprise was not to be confined to preaching, though that was at all times of the first importance with Mr. Black; he believed that "Faith without works is dead" and that the Gospel of Divine Grace could be best commended to the poor and forlorn by loving ministrations to their necessities and distresses, hence the social side of Christianity appealed to him intensely. He could never say to the destitute, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," without at the same time giving them that which would provide the meal and kindle the fire. Often at the close of a busy day at "Twynholm" he would return home without a single coin in his pockets. With such compassion for human needs, little wonder that the Mission soon inaugurated a Food, Coal, and General Relief Fund; a Clothing Department; a Soup Kitchen and Food Supply. Rooms were provided in the building at nominal charges for the use of Workmen's Clubs, Benefit Societies, and such like organisations. Hospital tickets were obtained for free distribution among the poor, and the willing services of a generous physician secured to render medical aid in urgent cases.
Nor were the needs of the children forgotten by the warm-hearted Evangelist. Attracted one day by a little fellow in rags and in the last extremity of hunger and misery, Mr. Black formed the idea of a Home for Orphan and Fatherless Boys; and this pitiable object was destined to be its first occupant. The lad's story was typical of many others. The mother deserted by her husband had five children to provide for. To do this she had turned to laundry work, but found that the bare pittance she could make was insufficient to keep all the children, so the two eldest must look after themselves. This boy, who was one of the two, had had no dinner for three weeks, and his only bed for twelve nights had been the cold stones or the dark corner of some grim alley. To one of such warm compassion and benevolent impulsiveness as Sydney Black, this story was overwhelming, and he there and then decided to devote himself to looking after the children of the poor, and well and nobly did he do so. A few rooms at the top of "Twynholm House" were set aside for this work, but the number who needed help and home were so numerous that it was found necessary to take a house to be used solely for the accommodation of the boys. For the purpose a place was secured at 156, Lillie Road, a few hundred yards away from "Twynholm," and there for some years the Home was located until it proved to be too small. Later on, after the death of Mr. Black, larger and more commodious premises were acquired at 710, Fulham Road. The funds to purchase the property and furnish the rooms were given, as a memorial of the Founder, by his friends and by others who had known and valued his disinterested service amongst the poor and friendless, and especially on behalf of the children. In all, about £1400 was expended on the new Home, and in it this splendid work is still carried on, under the devoted care of the present Matron, Mrs. Stickland. It is impossible to estimate the value of such a work as this. Time cannot measure it, eternity only will reveal it. Many lads have received training and education to fit them for their work in life; nearly all of those who have begun their career have remained steadfast to the teaching they received in the Home, and are a credit to their teachers; most of them have voluntarily confessed Christ and are still walking according to His commandments. Without pressure or undue persuasion these lads have come to recognise the Friend who alone can truly guide and help them, influenced chiefly by the spiritual atmosphere which only Christian love and sympathy can create.
Click here for a photograph of Twynholm Orphanage, 710 Fulham Road, London, UK. 85 Kb.
The Home has been conducted throughout in a wise and enlightened manner. The boys are well cared for, as their appearance shows. There has been an utter absence of anything like the old Charity School spirit. They are not clad in any distinctive garb, but wear the clothes of the ordinary boy. Nothing has been done to remind them of their early distress. This is all due to the large-hearted ideals of the Founder, for to Sydney Black anything that would wound the spirit, proclaim relief, or stamp the distressed with the badge of his misfortune, was abhorrent. Perhaps of all the work begun by him none is so likely to be as permanently useful and blessed as this. He loved children. It was no uncommon thing to see him in the streets around Fulham Cross with an attendant train of some ten or twelve boys and girls, all claiming his attention, and all anxious to win his smile. For every one of them he had a kind word and an almost fatherly consideration, which endeared him to their hearts, and to the hearts of their parents. He could see great potentialities in the dirtiest urchin who ran the streets, and loved the lads both for what they were, and for what they might become.
Click here for a photograph of the boys. 98 Kb.
This reference to Mr. Black's work amongst the boys cannot be better concluded than by the eloquent words of Dr. John Clifford, the hero of modern Nonconformity, uttered on the occasion of the opening of the new Home on 12th March, 1908. After referring to Mr. Black's work as Preacher and Reformer, Dr. Clifford said:-
"Surely it is a fitting thing that the memory of such a worker should be commemorated in this way. Certainly nothing could have been more congenial to his own spirit than the extension of this work on behalf of the fatherless boys. It is the work shared of God. He Himself permits us to think of Him as a Father of the fatherless. Jesus Christ has told us that it is not the will of our Father who is the Father of the fatherless, that one of these little ones should perish. In Heaven the angels do always behold the presence of their Father, but God sends angels down here to these little ones. He sent the sister of Moses to be a minister to the little babe, when the babe was lying in the ark of bulrushes. He sent Charles Haddon Spurgeon as an angel and a messenger for the protection of little children. He sent Dr. Barnardo, He sent Benjamin Waugh, the man of whose death we have heard today; and He sent Sydney Black; and I love to think of him as God's messenger. It is a work which is most precious to men, as well as dear to God. What does it do? It saves the wreckage of society. It saves the wastage of that most precious treasure the world has - child life. There is no asset the nation possesses which is so real and intrinsically valuable as its child population; and here is a hand stretched out to save those who would otherwise be lost.
"You know something about how much there is of destruction in the world especially of child life. The destroyers are round about us, and are perpetually at work. The public-house and its destructive work abounds. It is easy to destroy the little lily-bud; but it takes a whole sun to bring that lily-bud to flower. Any one may trample out the life of a little child; but what skill and prayer, and love, are necessary to train the child. You mothers and fathers know that. We are not simply here to provide a shelter for these children, but we are supplying them with training and education. We are preventing them from drifting into the masses of the unemployed. Let Fulham take note of that. We are preventing them from becoming a burden on the rates. Let Fulham Guardians and Councillors take note of that. It is a work for the people of the City. It is a work that saves not simply the child, but saves also those who are working on behalf of social advance everywhere. But it is a more important work than that. This is a training home for Jesus Christ. These children will not simply be trained to use their hands and their brains, but their hearts and their wills - to have those wills set right for God and His Glorious Kingdom. And service of that kind is one of unspeakable value to the nation. We cannot tell what may be the product of this home - how many missionaries may come out of it, who will go the ends of the earth, and proclaim the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ - how many capable business men shall come out of it, who shall use their means for extending the principles of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a great work that is being undertaken here, and one which deserves our utmost sympathy, and our heartiest approbation and support.
"I like to think also that this building will be a witness to the people of Fulham of the .necessity that there is that the children of the nation should be cared for by the nation; and that these children are our children - ours because they are Jesus Christ's. And therefore the people of Fulham have responsibilities with regard to the fathers and the mothers of the needy children that are scattered round about us. This building will be a perpetual reminder to them, saying to them, 'it is yours to take this child and nurse it for me.'
"Horace Mann, the great Educationalist of the United States, on one occasion undertook the opening of a large school in Massachusetts. A very costly building had been erected, and he said, in the course of his address, 'If only one child is saved through the putting up of this edifice, it is worth all the hundreds and thousands of dollars that have been spent on it.'
"Some one asked him if he did not exaggerate very much in making a statement of this kind, and he answered, 'Not if it were my child.' And I think that is precisely what every mother and father would say.
"Now we want to get into that attitude with regard to the fatherless ones suggested by that statement. Jesus Christ said 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these My little ones, yet did it unto Me.' Christ bids us see Himself in every fatherless boy, and seeing Him there, to express our devotion to Him, and our love to Him, by the richness of the gifts which we give to the children.
"I commend, therefore, to you, my dear friends, this good work, rejoicing in the fact that you are commemorating the service - earnest, sincere and whilehearted - of my friend Mr. Sydney Black, and rejoicing still more that you are perpetuating his influence, and increasing his serviceableness, in this great institution. May God abundantly bless his memory, and through it may He bless hundreds and thousands of boys in years to come, is my prayer."
Rescue work amongst women was also carried on for a time under the Superintendence of Miss Mary Hugill, to whom reference was made in an earlier chapter. The Home originally begun in Chelsea was given up, and new quarters were found at "Melbourne House," Grove Avenue, Walham Green; here a good work was done in a quiet unobtrusive way. It was, however, ultimately found desirable to disconnect this phase of social work from the Mission, and the control and management reverted to the capable care of Miss Hugill.
Early in June, 1893, the Fulham Cross Christian Mission took possession of the altered and renovated "Queen Anne." The building, standing as it does on the 'bus route from Walham Green to Hammersmith, is a prominent landmark, and it was destined to be the centre of much useful and God-honouring work in a neighbourhood greatly in need of self-sacrificing interest and sympathy. Here for the last ten years of his life Sydney Black found his energies, his hopefulness, his faith tested to the utmost. The needs and the sorrows of the people were so great, his resources in comparison so inadequate, that it would not have been surprising if at times he had given way to despondency; yet, he never despaired, but laboured in the strength of the Lord, glad that he was counted worthy to do something for his Master, and rejoicing with great joy in every victory won over sin, and in those who confessed the Christ.
The Church of Christ at Twynholm House met for the first time soon after the opening of the Mission centre. It consisted of forty members from the Church at College Street, Chelsea, who had been dismissed to form the new assembly, together with a number who had been first attracted by the meetings in the Fulham Town Hall, and who had afterwards been immersed and received into Fellowship. This little Church has grown until today it numbers upwards of 500 members, and is the largest body associated with the Churches of Christ in this country. Until the Assembly Hall was built the meetings were held in a large classroom on the ground floor of Twynholm House, but in a few weeks the accommodation was strained to the utmost.
Sunday School work was of course entered upon from the beginning, and in no long time the place was overrun with children from the neighbourhood. Under the friendly warm-hearted superintendence of Mr. Black the school soon settled down into order and grew until it reached an attendance of over 1000 in number, and at that figure it still remains, simply because it has bene found impossible to take in more.
Band of Hope work, Mothers' Meetings and Classes of various descriptions filled up every available week-night, and at most of these Sydney Black would be found enthusing and enlivening the proceedings, for he had the rare faculty of infecting every one with his own moral earnestness.
Occasional breaks in this daily routine of hard mental and spiritual labour were of course necessary, and at infrequent intervals Mr. Black would leave London to preach in the Provinces. He seems to have been unable to forget his work; everywhere and on all occasions when opportunity offered, he was ready either to preach or to tell the story of his Mission Work in London. He could for a few hours be a boy again, but at too rare intervals. Better for himself, far better for his work, had be been able to lay aside the load of responsibility; but he felt too intensely, was so completely dominated by his work, so thrilled by the "still, sad music of humanity" that he almost regretted the time given to any recreation; yet when he did play no one could more enjoy happy, harmless fun than he. At cricket he would surpass all others in the vigour of his play; in the tremendous swipes he would give to the ball, or the speed with which he would bowl. His laughter on such occasions was almost Homeric. He brought to everything he did the same enthusiasm and energy which marked his preaching. No half measures would satisfy him. His vitality at times was almost overwhelming, and friends in contact with him have been heard to say that he tired them, because he seemed to draw from them their energy and power. Late at night, when others would be ready to retire, worn with the day's duties, he would be most bright, ready to discuss any and every subject; to relate his day's experience, or to plan new schemes of work. On one occasion at midnight he complained to the writer with a humorous twinkle in his eyes, that he wondered why people wanted to go to bed so early, especially when he wished to discuss the Millenium!
In the months of August and September, 1893, the records show that Mr. Black was busily engaged in a tour of the Provinces, preaching the Gospel and enlisting the interest and sympathy of his brethren in the newly founded Mission. The Churches in Wrexham, Leeds, Wigan, South Wigston, and Nottingham were visited, and everywhere large meetings were addressed. In Nottingham Mr. Black was invited by the Committee of the United Gospel Mission to take the services in the Albert Hall on 10th September. The meetings were a great success, as many as 2500 persons were present at the evening gathering, and after an address on "The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way," thirty believing penitents confessed their Lord and were immersed into Christ. In October, after a Lord's Day in London, he was preaching in Lowestoft, Tunbridge Wells and Oswestry on successive Sundays. In November he was back again in London to settle down to a long spell of close, arduous toil amongst the suffering poor around his doors, through the bitter winter days.
The foregoing is an indication of the manner in which Mr. Black divided the years which remained to him. Nine months of ceaseless activity in the work of the Mission, varied with three months' preaching amongst the Churches.
On the 6th January, 1895, the Church of Christ at Twynholm House entered into possession of the large and commodious Hall which had been planned by Mr. Black, and in which he was to build up and sustain an ever-growing Church work during the next eight years. The opening celebrations aroused great interest in the district; the gatherings were so large as to necessitate overflow meetings. The new Hall was well adapted for the purposes of the Mission, and has proved to be a comfortable home for the Church, and a place of spiritual repair for many stricken and wearied souls. In the planning and re-arranging of the premises Mr. Black's attention to detail is strikingly seen, for every convenience necessary to the successful carrying on of Gospel work was provided. The alterations and new building cost £2700, a large sum for the then existing membership of 100 people, most of whom were poor. The work could not have been undertaken except for the generosity and business acumen of Mr. Robert Black, and his youngest son, upon whom the responsibility chiefly rested.
With the opening of the Hall and the additional accommodation thus available, the work of the Fulham Cross Mission assumed its fullest activity. The following is the time-table for one week in the month of February, 1896, and it will serve as an example of what was done under the leadership of Sydney Black, and has been continued with slight alterations ever since:-
TWYNHOLM HOUSE AND HALL
ARRANGEMENTS FOR FEBRUARY, 1896
11 a.m. The Church of Christ assembles for Divine worship and the "Breaking of Bread."
2.45 p.m. Lord' Day School and Bible Classes.
3.0 p.m. Women's Bible Class.
5.0 p.m. Weekly tea and Christian Intercourse.
6.30 p.m. Preaching the Gospel.
6.30 p.m. Bible Class for Girls over twelve.
6.30 p.m. Bible Class for Youths under fifteen.
8.0 p.m. Evening "Breaking of Bread."
9-10 a.m. Twynholm House Nurse; Club Room No. 1.
2-4 p.m. Women's Meeting. (Tea and Clothing Sale once a month.)
7.0 p.m. Band of Hope.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
8.15 a.m. Fulham Working Men's Free Breakfasts for Children.
9-10 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.
10-11 a.m. Relief Committee in Club Room No. 2.
12-1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.
9-10 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.
12-1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
8.0 p.m. Gospel Service.
8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.
9-10 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.
12-1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.
7.0 p.m. Band of Hope Singing Class.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
8.15 a.m. Free Breakfasts for Children.
9-10 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.
12-1.45 p.m. Soup Kitchen.
6.30 p.m. Girls' Sewing Class.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
8.0 p.m. Bible and Training Class.
9-10 a.m. Nurse in Club Room No. 1.
7-10 p.m. Working Lads' Social Club.
The nurse so often referred to was in daily attendance to receive intimations of sickness, to enroll members for the Maternity Club, and to help in many ways the poor wives and mothers of the district.
During the whole of each busy week, outlined in the time-table given above, Mr. Black would be in attendance at Twynholm House seeing a continuous stream of callers in his private room. What stories he had to listen to, what pitiable sorrows to comfort, what heartbreaking poverty to relieve! Only those who have lived or laboured in such a district as Fulham can adequately appreciate the claims upon the sympathy, the tact, the firmness of those who seek to serve the poor. In addition to interviewing applicants for help or advice, Mr. Black would be found calling on the sick, visiting the Workhouse to enquire for some distressed inmate, or the Police Courts to speak a word on behalf of some one in danger of prison; perhaps calling from house to house with invitations to the Gospel services, or speaking at a meeting, often at other places; for he was ready to respond to any call if, in doing so, he were allowed freedom of speech and was not compromising any truth he held.
It was in June of this year (1896) that the first indication was noticed that all was not physically well with Mr. Black. His throat, which had of late been a source of anxiety to him, now became so bad that he was compelled to give up public speaking for a period of three months. Little wonder, when one considers that during fourteen years he had delivered over 4000 discourses with all the impassioned earnestness of his vehement oratory. He was often advised by his parents and friends, and he himself at times determined, to restrain his manner of speaking; yet when his subject seized him, prudence and advice were alike forgotten, and he was swept along in a tornado of eloquence, which never failed to arouse and arrest public attention. The price he paid was a heavy one, for there can be little doubt that the strain upon his constitution was so great as to sow the seeds of the weakness which was to close his work so sadly soon.
Sydney Black's interests were not confined to the work of the Mission, for with his conception of the Christian ideal as one in which the spiritual redemption of the people should be accompanied by their social betterment, it was inevitable that he should give much thought to the question of representation on public bodies. He found a spirit of compromise and toleration of evil dominating public life, and believing this to be inimical to the best interests of the people, he set about to secure that those whom he thought would be more faithful in advancing the welfare of their constituents should be nominated and elected on the various public bodies in the district. He shrank from compromise as from an evil thing. He could understand that a thing was black or white, but could not be got to recognise grey. There was no via media between right and wrong. To his downright nature, sham and hypocrisies were intolerable, and he never hesitated to say so, often at the loss of popularity and at the cost of much ill-will.
It came about quite naturally that those who agreed with Mr. Black considered him to be suitable to represent them, and he was often requested to allow himself to be nominated for public services. For several years he declined the honour, feeling that he should first securely establish the Mission, and regarding every work as secondary to the great charge committed to him of preaching the Gospel. His first connection with the public life of the district was when he became a member of the Fulham Free Church Council. On this body he remained until his death, rendering good service to the cause of Nonconformity. His abilities were appreciated even by those who differed from him, though he at times antagonised some of their cherished traditions.
One can imagine how little to the mind of some of his fellow members on the Council, would be a resolution Mr. Black moved and carried soon after he became a member, to the effect:-
"That at the sittings of the Council all distinctions between 'Ministers' and 'lay-men' be abandoned."
Equally characteristic of him was a resolution he succeeded in passing:-
"That this Council believing horse-racing as at present carried on to be a most prolific source of moral disease and terrible criminality, most earnestly entreats the Prince of Wales, and the Earl of Rosebery, to withdraw their influential patronage from this monster institution of betting and gambling in their very worse forms. It further instructs the Secretary to send a copy of this resolution to each of the above-named gentlemen."
So marked was the influence Mr. Black exerted upon the Council that it was impossible to find a seconder for a resolution of greeting to Bishop Creighton, who had then been appointed to the See of London. For this Mr. Black was attacked with violence by one of the local papers and charged with insulting the new appointed bishop. Nothing could be more untrue, for of all men Mr. Black was the least likely to insult another. His opposition and that of his fellow members of the Council was not to the scholar and the man, but to the official and representative of a Church whose avowed object they considered was to oppose and sweep away the religious faith and liberties of Nonconformity.
In the year 1899 Mr. Black was persuaded to stand for the Fulham Board of Guardians in opposition to the vicar of St. Albans, whom he defeated by 192 votes. The contest appears to have been sharp and exciting, but conducted with perfect good feeling, the relations between the two candidates being all that it should be between men who claimed the name of Christian, even though in their views they were as the poles asunder.
One of the first matters which engaged the attention of the new Guardian was the appointment of a salaried Nonconformist Instructor at the Fulham Workhouse, to which he objected on the ground that the law did not compel the Guardians to appoint a salaried one; and what was more important still, that no religion should be supported out of the rates. he also strongly dissented from an annual expenditure of £170 per annum on alcoholic liquors for the inmates because he held it had been scientifically proved that alcohol was unnecessary either in sickness or in health.
Not in many ways a Guardian to commend himself to those of his fellow members who believed in the principle of laisser faire, yet he won their secret admiration, even while they openly opposed him, for the transparent honesty of his intentions, his inflexible loyalty to principle, and his consistent life and character. The Chairman of the Guardians, in a letter after Mr. Black's death, wrote of him as follows:-
"On the Board of Guardians he was most active and useful and he very quickly picked up the complicated threads of Poor Law Administration. On the Relief Committee his knowledge of the people was most useful, and he had not been on the Board long before he brought proposals to remodel certain of the rules for the administration of relief. In the Board Room he was a keen debater, and while a very strenuous opponent, he never allowed his opposition to principles to interfere with his personal relationship to members of the Board. His retirement from the Board was a distinct loss to the Borough. My recollections of Mr. Sydney Black are in every way pleasant; as a man he was most genial and enthusiastic, and his enthusiasm was combined with emotion and strong religious convictions which gave him impulse and force of character."
Not content with the service he was able to render to the public weal as a Guardian, and feeling that he could be useful in another field, Mr. Black gave up his Poor Law work and consented, in the year 1900, to nomination as a Progessive Candidate for the London School Board for the Chelsea Division. His candidature was carried on with the same energy with which he did everything to which he put his hand, aided by the enthusiastic work of the zealous band of friends from "Twynholm." His chief battles cries were: "No religious tests for teachers," "No Creeds and Catechisms," and "Efficiency." The result of the contest was that Sydney Black was returned by a vote of 13,751, the second on the list of representatives selected. In a characteristic address after the poll, he declared that he was sent "to keep the grand old Bible in, and the presumptuous cleric out of, the schools of the people," and that he would "do all in his power to forward the interests of a National System of Education." His service on the School Accommodation and Attendance Committee, and on the Industrial and Truant Schools Committee, was much appreciated as well as the work he was able to do in the Sub-Committee dealing with Scripture knowledge. In this new work he soon found an opportunity to declare his principles, and secured a victory for Temperance by a resolution, which his colleagues approved, that the School Board should enter opposition against the creation of any new licences in the immediate neighbourhood of Schools.
His failing health made it necessary for him to lay down this work early in 1903, much to his own disappointment and to the regret of his fellow members. Not long before his retirement he vigorously denounced the Duke of Devonshire, the then head of the Education Board, for his Laodicean attitude on the question of betting and gambling, as shown in the evidence given before the Commission on Betting. The resolution which he moved, practically one of censure, was not carried, but it served to show the fearless and uncompromising nature of his hostility to everything he regarded as making for unrighteousness. His trumpet gave forth no uncertain sound. Of his work on the School Board his colleagues have born testimony that he was a man "of absolute honesty and devotion to the public service, of unswerving consistency in the pursuit of what he considered right." As a School Manager his work was much appreciated by the teachers, for reasons which will be best expressed by the following, from the pen of Mr. W.C. Pratt, Headmaster of the Boys' Department of the Lillie Road School, Fulham:-
"Mr. Sydney Black was undoubtedly a lover of children. He was never more happy than when he had a little crowd of them around him, and was by no means particular whether it were in the street, playground, or Mission Hall. The little ones were drawn to him by the power of his ever-radiant face, and were soon filled with glee and laughter by his mirth, cheery words, and ready wit. His supreme effort was to get the children under good, wholesome influence, and this meant to him a triumph for the future. Not infrequently did it happen that through the children he found a way to the parents, who, by his counsel and advice, would be brought to a better way of living - the home brightened and the character of life entirely changed. To pass from class to class in one or another of our local Board Schools was to him an unbounded delight. The teacher was greeted with a warm shake of the hand and the progress of the work very heartily entered into. The children loved him. To the teachers he was at all times a genuinely kind and sympathetic friend, and being practically acquainted with the many difficulties of teaching, his warm-hearted expressions of praise were highly appreciated, and came as an encouragement to a body of arduous workers, too infrequently thanked for their devotion to duty and care for the children."
During these busy crowded years at "Twynholm," Sydney Black still found time to visit the Churches of Christ at frequent intervals, in response to the many calls for his services as evangelist.
In 1896 he had been selected by the Co-operating Churches to become the Chairman of their next Annual Conference in Glasgow, so that in August, 1897, we find him occupying the highest position which it was in the power of his brethren to confer upon him. He proved to be most successful in the office, and the Conference was an unusually profitable one, helped by his ardent and genial direction. The address from the Chair was on the subject of "New Testament Churchmanship," and was intended as a reply to Dr. Charles Berry's addresss on "Congregational Churchmanship," delivered in the previous May. Mr. Black's reply dealt with the New Testament conception of Churchmanship as distinct from the "One Fold" idea of the Roman and Anglican Sacerdotalists, and of the "Many Folds" idea of the Protestant Evangelical Sects. He showed that the Divine intention was that of "One Flock and One Shepherd," and not of many flocks in the one fold. He urged the Churches of Christ to meet the error by:-
"contending for an unqualified restoration of Primitive Christianity; by showing that all the Apostolic Churches rejoiced not in uniformity of details of working, but in uniformity of organisation and constitution; by pleading for the organic Christian union of all obedient believers in Jesus Christ upon the seven-planked platform constructed by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, under the direct superintendence of the Divine Spirit, and brought to view so clearly in Ephesians iv. 4-6; and by demonstrating that the oneness for which our dear Lord so earnestly prayed instead of being realised by inter-denominational amenities and courtesies, can alone be effected by the extinction of all dividing barriers and schismatic hobbies, together with the rallying of all the disintegrated forces of Christendom in one glorious army under the blood-stained banner of the Cross."
In the same year (1897) we find him visiting the country Churches in Knapp Hill, Surrey; Leominster, and Green Hill Lane, Nottingham. A year later he found time to preach in Leicester and Wigan, in addition to undertaking the work and responsibility of arranging and preparing for the Annual Conference which was held in "Twynholm Hall." In 1899 he undertook quite an extensive tour of the Provinces, covering Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, the fishing towns of the Moray Firth, Dumfries, and Leicester.
The year 1900 was marked by the discontinuance of the old Church in College Street, Chelsea, owing to the falling in of the lease of the building, but more particularly to the fact that the larger work of the Mission had so seriously weakened the parent Church that a.separate existence was inadvisable. Another element in the case was that the neighbourhood of Chelsea was rapidly changing in character; large and expensive flats for the habitation of the rich taking the place of the small, unpretentious dwellings of the poor. All these things brought about the amalgamation of the two Churches; the older cause was merged in the younger and more flourishing one, to the great advantage of both.
The passing years brought increasing claims upon Mr. Black's time and powers. Invitations reached him from every quarter, which he was not slow to accept; always, however, after he had arranged for the work at Twynholm. He was fortunate in having his brother Robert, to whom he could turn for help and relief. The devoted attachment of theyounger brother to the elder was a beautiful thing, and but for it, Sydney Black could never have accomplished the work he did. Every public cause which had for its object the uplifting of the people: their deliverance from the power of drink, the betterment of their homes or the rescue of their children, received Mr. Black's immediate support. He was an ardent advocate of Housing Reform, and the National Prohibition of the Drink Traffic, and he would be found at all the meetings for such causes in the West of London. Every form of error, civic or ecclesiastic, he was ready to attack, and to offer the hospitality of Twynholm to many from whom he would differ widely on religious grounds, yet with whose general propaganda he was in agreement; for example, he twice invited the late Mr. John Kensit to address meetings at Fulham Cross in the interests of the Protestant Cause. He was a strong opponent of the Education Bill of 1902, and in Joyful Tidings he fulminated his objections with unmistakable emphasis, and declared it to be the duty of every Christian to offer passive resistance to the Act after it became law. The Disestablishment of the Church of England was another of the subjects he was greatly interested in, and many were the addresses he delivered in advocating it, and fearless were his attacks upon the principle of Establishment. On one occasion, speaking on this subject to a crowded audience, many of whom were Churchmen in a hostile mood, he referred to the fact of the State Church having both a Temporal and Spiritual head as a monstrosity, on the ground that no body can have two heads. This evoked a storm of opposition, and as the lecturer would persist in repeating the self-evident, logical, but unpalatable truth, the meeting broke up in disorder. Such a determined stand for what he believed to be truth was entirely characteristic of the man.
The ever-increasing strain began to tell upon his health, and many were the warnings of anxious friends, and of the still more anxious parents. Yet it seemed as if nothing could stay Mr. Black's eager and impetuous desire to be up and doing. It was a time full of throbbing interest to him, and how could he be idle? The plain truth is that he was overworking himself far beyond what nerve and body would bear, and indications were not wanting that nature would rebel. Would that he had heeded the warning in time!
The year 1902 was marked by an almost feverish haste and energy of work. In addition to the exacting daily care of the Mission at Fulham and his public duties on the School Board, he planned and carried out a preaching tour through the Provinces. Commencing at Egremont, Cheshire, he visited in due course the towns of Leicester, Devonport, Alfreton, Criccieth, Nottingham, Belfast and Londonderry. Everywhere he was received with delight and affection, for he was much beloved of his brethren. The Annual Conference of the Churches was held this year at Edinburgh, and it was obvious to those who knew him well that he was tired. It was pathetic to see how he seemed to be spurring himself to work. The discourse he delivered on the Wednesday evening Session of the Annual Meeting, was to be the last many of his brethren would hear. His friend, Mr. H.E. Tickle, who was present, afterwards wrote of the address:-
"How strong and deep he laid the foundations in that address for the authority of the risen Christ, few who heard it will forget; but those who may have forgotten the masterly marshalling of fact and argument in the earlier part of his discourse, cannot forget, we hope, the conclusion of that supreme effort. If ever a human instrument forgot self, it was surely Sydney Black during those few pregnant minutes. With the tongue as of one inspired, he poured out his soul in a tribute of praise and adoration to the Saviour whom he loved so well, and served so faithfully. Poetry, prayer and prose, mingled in grandest harmony to make a peroration the like of which is only listened to once in a life-time."
This address was Sydney Black's "Swan Song," for though he addressed a few meetings afterwards, they were chiefly small gatherings in North Wales and Ireland, where he had no opportunity for the full exercise of his splendid powers. As the days went by, he grew weaker. He would not admit that he was ill, but persisted in his work, until in the month of October, 1902, it was useless for him to struggle longer, and he was compelled to acknowledge that he was tired; too tired to preach, too weak even to find his way to the Church he loved so well and in whose service he had so willingly spent himself.
CHAPTER V - LAST DAYS -
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THE first public intimation that all was not well with Sydney Black appeared in the month of November, 1902, when the readers of the little monthly paper issued from Twynholm Hall were advised that he was dangerously ill. He had been present at an Officers' Meeting on Wednesday, 5th November, and on reaching home had complained of severe pain. His indisposition increased in severity until it was apparent to his relatives that the illness was likely to be a prolonged one. The news of his affliction came as a great surprise and grief to many who had not discerned the signs of waning strength. He had appeared so strong and robust that it seemed impossible that anything serious could trouble him; but to those who knew him intimately it had been a matter for wonder that he had been able for so long to maintain the strain of his exacting and exciting life. The illness proved to be that distressing, and nearly always fatal ailment, Bright's disease. For years it had been slowly and insidiously working upon his splendid frame, until it was too late to check its ravages. The causes were only too obvious. Long hours without proper meals, due to no neglect on the part of those who loved him, but to his own temperament, which made him too impatient to delay his work for necessary food. Oftentimes he would return home at 11 o'clock at night, exhausted, wet through, and having had no suitable food since breakfast. His work as a preacher of the Gospel was in itself a great strain, for he never spared himself, but preached as if the eternal future of every one of his hearers depended on the words he uttered. To do this for twenty years, not twice in each week, but often ten or more times; to preach, as he did, with passion and vehemence; living himself in every sentence, feeling intensely every thought, pouring himself out in white-hot words; pleading, persuading, rebuking, denouncing; all this was to make demands upon the nerves and brain and body, which the strongest constitution could alone sustain, and that only for a time. Little wonder that the fiery soul fretted the body to decay.
The months passed sadly while hope alternated with fear. Now, he was a little better and was planning new work, to be undertaken as soon as he could be about again; later, the illness had taken an unfavourable turn, and anxiety was visible on the faces of his friends. Amidst it all, he maintained the utmost Christian fortitude and resignation, and even found strength to address letters of hope and encouragement to the Church at Twynholm and to individual members. Here is a letter written to the Church, and read at the morning meeting on 28th December, 1902:-
"BELOVED IN THE LORD,
"May grace, mercy and peace be abundantly realised by each of you throughout the services of the last Lord's Day of this waning year! May it, indeed, be with all of you, as it is with the writer, a season of faithful heart-searching and self examination; and above all, may there be all round much intense reconsecration to the life and service of our Blessed Lord and Master, Amen and Amen!
"I have greatly desired, in my bonds and afflication, to write to you for some weeks past; but have purposely deferred the opportunity in the hope of finding myself in a position to write both definitely and favourably as to my physical condition, and the prospect of a return to my much loved work in the midst of my brethren, and amongst the poor perishing masses of our fellow men, outside the fold of the Good Shepherd.
"With much sorrow, yet at the same time completely trusting in the wisdom and goodness of my Heavenly Father, I have to report to you that I am not able, as I had fondly desired, to write either fully or favourably. During the last few days fresh developments have manifested themselves in my condition, and I have been so very weak as to be quite unable either to write or study for more than a few minutes at a time.
"I desire specially to thank all those brethren who have forwarded such constant and affectionate messages, both written and verbal, during these long weeks of confinement; as also those who have so graciously ministered to my encouragement by their timely and helpful visits. May heaven's richest benediction rest upon them all!
"Bear up your afflicted brother at the Blood-stained Mercy Seat! Remember my thoughts and aspirations are with you around the Lord's Table on this bright resurrection morning. I have been immensely cheered to learn of the spontaneous and whole-souled manner in which several brethren and sisters have risen to the occasion, by coming forward and offering to 'be anything' or to 'do anything,' if so be that the glorious work we have in hand may be helped forward.
"Farewell, beloved fellow-citizens of Christ's Kingdom - just for the present!
'In holy duties let the day,
In holy pleasures pass away,
How sweet a Lord's Day thus to spend
In hope of one that ne'er shall end.'
"With warmest Christian affection and every good wish for the New Year.
"Your afflicted Evangelist and fellow-labourer in Gospel Bonds,
This letter is typical of several addressed by him to the Church during the last months of his life. Each of them expressed the same brave spirit of hopefulness with a quiet submission to the Divine will. At times the desire to be at work would make him impatient, for it was not easy for him to be still.
In the Spring of 1903 he was removed to Ventnor under the devoted care of his mother, and, for a time, it seemed as if the change had effected an improvement in his condition. Bournemouth was tried next, and hopes were further quickened by what appeared to be marked signs of returning strength, so much so that in July it was decided to try what a course of treatment at Matlock would do. A few weeks passed, during which it began to be increasingly evident that the favourable signs upon which so much hope had been based, were only the brightening flame which springs up before the light dies out. Late in August it was necessary to remove Mr. Black to his home in London, while he still had strength to travel. During the remaining weeks everything that love could do was done for him, and every attention was repaid a hundredfold by his gratitude and affection. His courage never wavered, nor did his belief in the Divine Wisdom ever falter. His cousin who visited him in July, when it was plain that his condition was most serious, wrote of "his bright, cheerful and intrepid spirit" as being "a revelation of the depth and breadth of his soul," and in the same letter she quotes the words of her husband:-
"I do not see how the most sceptical could have any other feeling for the Christian religion than one of re-awakened interest, upon seeing the consolation brought by it to this sincere professor of its truths as shown in his calm and courageous bearing. No anxiety or fear, nothing but serenity and unquestioning acceptance of God's will."
His sister, Mrs. C.W. Batten, who was constant in her attendance and untiring in her devotion, speaks of an occasion when, to use her own words:-
"I made a remark as to the strangeness of the Lord's dealing with him, while others, whose lives seemed useless both to themselves and everyone else, were spared to pursue their evil ways. He checked me at once, and with his perfect confidence and resignation, as at all times, told me never to doubt the working of an ever-loving Father; that He always acted for the best, and that he could trust Him absolutely whatever happened. His confidence and trust in his heavenly Father were ever perfectly maintained right to the end.
"He was always with him - 'Too wise to err, to good to be unkind.'
"During all his dreadful suffering and pain, his perfect resignation to His Father's will was a lesson which I think was deeply impressed upon all those who loved him and were privileged to come in contact with him."
On Thursday evening, 22nd October, 1903, at the age of 43, he passed away, after weeks of great suffering, borne with heroic fortitude. The news of his passing was sent out in terms which he himself would have approved: "Promoted to higher service."
The sense of loss which the Churches of Christ in this country experienced, found instant expression in the hundreds of letters which the bereaved family received, and were a remarkable testimony to the influence Sydney Black had exerted and the affection with which he was regarded by his brethren. To meet the universal desire of the community, amongst, and for whom, his chief work had been done, the parents consented that opportunity should be given to all who desired to do so to view their departed friend and comrade, and his body was removed to Twynholm Hall. Thousands of all sorts and conditions of people passed through the Hall, most of them showing unmistakable signs of grief and regard for their true friend.
The last discourse preached by Mr. Black was on the passage in Romans viii. 38-39, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," and this text, with its confident ring of assured victory, found a prominent and fitting place in the funeral arrangements.
The interment took place in Fulham Cemetery on 27th October. It is surely one of the most unlovely of all London's burying grounds, surrounded as it is on all sides by dwelling-houses. The noise of the traffic and of the street cries falls harshly upon the ear. Row after row of gravestones stand in a desolating order, which hurts one to look upon. The foliage is very scant, and there is little to lift the heart or to soften grief. Yet this Acre of God was the most suitable resting-place for Sydney Black. It was the cemetery of the poor; it was here that so many were lying who had known him and whose last hours he had comforted; it was within sight of Twynholm Hall and the scenes of his ten strenuous years of self-denying labour. So to this place he was borne by young men, some of whom owed to him their knowledge of the Higher Life, and had been helped by him in their desire to play the man. Thousands of people, sad, sympathetic and orderly, lined the streets or stood around the open grave. The words of the Fulham Chronicle fittingly described the service and the scene:-
"Hope was the keynote of all that was said, and the solace for all that was done, and it found outward expression in complete simplicity. There was no pomp, and only so much visible grief as must still remain with bereaved men and women after the religion of the future life has done its best to comfort. It was a people's funeral - hardly more from the undertaker's point of view than an artisan's - and those who followed it were for the most part drawn from the ranks of the poor. One might venture to say that it was the sort of funeral, for these reasons, that Sydney Black would have wished."
The funeral service in Twynholm Hall was conducted by his aged and greatly loved friend, Mr. James Leavesley, of Leicester, who expressed, in simple and suitable words, the feeling of those present. The grand old hymn "Rock of Ages," a favourite of Sydney Black's, was sung, and many eyes were dimmed with tears.
At the graveside, Mr. George Collin, of Carlisle (who has since joined his friend in the heavenly land), spoke to the throng of people of the value, influence and example of the life of the departed preacher; ending his address on the note of victory. It was a memorable occasion and the speech was worthy of the subject and of the speaker.
On the Sunday following, the Fulham Town Hall was crowded by an attentive audience at a Memorial Service, addressed by Mr. Bartley Ellis, of Wigan, a friend who had know Mr. Black from his infancy. After an eloquent sermon on I. Corinthians xv. 54-57, Mr. Ellis spoke of his friend's work in the district, and concluded by pointing out the supreme value of early decision for Christ, and urged all to imitate Sydney Black in his devotion to his Lord and in his self-sacrifice for civic and social righteousness.
The foregoing is but a bare statement of services which were solemnly impressive, attended as they were by thousands of people, nearly all of whom had known Sydney Black, and of whom, many had reason to thank God for his life and service. The poor predominated, for he was their friend, but there were also present representatives of all shades of life and opinion - The Mayor of Fulham, Members of Parliament, notable amongst whom was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Hon. D. Lloyd George, who had known and greatly esteemed Mr. Black; Guardians, Colleagues on the School Board, Members of the Borough and Free Church Councils, School Teachers, even Clergymen of the Established Church. All differences forgotten, all anxious to show by their presence and sympathy, their regard and admiration for Sydney Black's noble character, his consistent life, and his lofty ideals. The Churches of Christ throughout the country were represented by many of their best known members. It was the passing of an hero; and though there was the sense of loss, and many grieved that so useful a life should have been ended so early; yet there prevailed a feeling of solemn joy, through the consciousness that he had not laboured in vain, but that his influence would survive in homes brightened, sufferings relieved, and lives uplifted by his work.
In 1905, a Monument was erected in the Cemetery which bears the following inscription:-
"This stone is erected in loving memory of Sydney Black, of Twynholm House, Fulham Cross, who was promoted to higher service on 22nd October, 1903, in his 44th year. Much esteemed as a citizen, greatly beloved as a son and brother, highly revered as a Christian teacher.
"During his brief but noble life his exceptional gifts were consecrated to the service of God and the elevation of his fellow men; but his supreme delight was to preach the Gospel and win souls for Chrsit and His service. In the many abiding results of his labour, he being dead yet speaketh."
Two years after the death of his son, Robert Black, the father, entered into his rest, to be followed a year later by his wife. The parents and their son lie in the same grave.
Eight years have passed since Sydney Black's earthly activities closed, and one is better able to reach a just conclusion as to the value of his work and influence than when the sense of loss was too immediate. It is not easy for any one to say all that could be said of any personality, since character presents itself so differently to each of us, but the endeavour to assess the worth of such a man as the subject of this brief biography, is rendered comparatively simple by his dominant characteristics of thoroughness, fearlessness, consistency, and his invincible belief in the power of God through His word and by His Spirit. His thoroughness was apparent in matters of organisation, for he was a master of detail; everything was foreseen and provided for. The same quality was evident also in his speaking, and those who listened to his Gospel addresses could not fail to be impressed by the manner with which his subject possessed him. He would lose himself completely in his message, carried along in a flood tide of eloquence. This quality made for an unconscious exaggeration in speech and methods, and it was easy for those who were hypercritical to discover faults, but by those in earnest this was overlooked, because everything was so real to him. Everything he did was informed with the same spirit. In singing his voice would be heard above the rest, and he would live in every word of the hymn. A lady said to the writer recently, that she once heard Mr. Black join in singing the well-known words:-
"Escape thou for thy life;
Tarry not in all the plain,"
and the impression made upon her by his earnestness was such, that she felt that at all costs she must turn and flee, the danger seemed so near. It was this intensity of absorption in his message, this power of convincing others that made him so successful in Gospel proclamation.
He was as fearless as he was thorough. His Mission work brought him into contact with a phase of life which made it as much a part of Christian charity to rebuke and admonish as to help and encourage. In this, oftentimes difficult, task he did not fear to speak the truth, always in love, and in doing so was frequently misjudged. In other ways this quality was seen, for instance, when as a member of the School Board, disregarding the possible scorn of his opponents, and the almost certain laughter and sneers of the Press, he moved his resolution to censure the Duke of Devonshire. As a lad he made a stand for right, when he refused to join in a gambling raffle, promoted by the firm who servant he was, and as a consequence had to leave. A second situation was given up after one day's service, because those in authority were addicted to the stupid vice of swearing at their employees. In each case the young lad told his masters why he was leaving. This quality led him to despise the spirit of compromise, even where compromise would have been neither unwise nor unfaithful. A thing was either right or wrong, and he could never be brought to see that, at times, in a choice of two roads to a good end, both ways might be possible. He was quite devoid of diplomacy, and occasionally thwarted his purpose by his outspoken manner. It was literally true of him that he feared nothing, but grieving the Master whom he loved and served.
His consistency was as remarkable as his other qualities. "This one thing I do" was his motto in life; the one thing, being to serve his God with heart and soul and strength. Preaching the glorious message of salvation to sinful men and women, and applying the principles of the redeemed life in every practical way he could devise, was the course he followed throughout the twenty years of his public life. He did not divorce the spiritual from the social and the civic, nor keep his Christianity in a watertight compartment, but believed that Christ should rule in the political and the civic realms through His Spirit; and as His servant, Sydney Black brought to the throbbing problems and questions of the day, the same faith and enthusiasm that he gave to his distinctly religious labours; applying the principles of Primitive Christianity in his care for the children, in his work as Guardian and as Member of the School Board. In all things with him it was Christ first. He could have lived an easy, pleasant, self-indulgent life, for means and opportunity were within his grasp; or could have taken a place in the world of politics, and would have won a national fame by sheer force of energy, will and character, but he remained constant to his early ideal, and chose the better part that could not be taken away. He elected to live for God, and spared himself nothing if by any means he might win men for His Master. He took few holidays, regarding them as a hindrance to his work; and when from home, a large part of his time was taken up in planning new labours, in writing to those he was anxious to help, or in thinking out new addresses; all the time stedfastly keeping before him the work of his life. A favourite saying of his was, "Let us crowd into life's little day all the good we can," and his life was a constant and consistent exemplification of the words.
Sydney Black's grasp of Scripture truth was another striking characteristic, and along with it, and because of it, his faith in the Word, the Providence and the Promises of God was unshaken and invincible. He had read much, and was quite conversant with modern religious thought and criticism, but it had no power to unsettle his belief in the testimony concerning the Christ, in the power of His sacrifice, and the reality of His resurrection. He took the Acts of the Apostles as the guide for the Church in matters relating to order and organisation, and was inclined to be impatient with those who could not see the Truth as he saw it. To doubt with him was almost to sin. The way of the Lord was so plain that the wayfarer could scarcely fail to discover the road; if he did so, it was because of the blindness of his eyes or the hardness of his heart. So at least it seemed to this consecrated preacher and servant of God. Yet though he held strongly to his beliefs, he was always courteous to those from whom he differed, and willing to co-operate with them in any effort to alleviate the sorrows or to remove the disabilities of the people. He was a thorough optimist, not in any merely sentimental sense, for he knew, as few men, the evil that abounds; but his confidence that Truth must finally triumph was never shaken, no matter how strongly entrenched the forces of unrighteousness seemed to be. To slightly alter the words of Robert Browning: "He at least believed in soul, and was very sure of God."
The last words very truly express the whole secret of the success which attended the work of Sydney Black. He was very sure of God.
He was charged with egotism by those whose chief activity in life seems to be to spend their time in criticising the work and labours of those more earnest and enthusiastic than themselves; but no man ever attempted a great work for God without being exposed to taunts and misunderstandings. Sydney Black was no exception. He went too fast for some, was too extreme for others, too extravagant in his speech for those who prefer to take their religion sedately. Yet of all men he was the least egotistic. A sentence from a letter written just before he began his work in London exactly expressed his mind: "God has planted within my heart an undying resolve to live, labour and die if needs be, in the service of the people of this great city." "God has planted." In that phrase is the secret of his apparent egotism. He regarded himself as called of God, a servant upon whom the burden of souls was laid by his Lord. What right, therefore, had any one to criticise the work, since the worker had the approval of his conscience and the consciousness of the Divine guidance? He resented criticism if his critics were themselves doing little, if anything, for his Lord, but none who truly co-operated with him ever received anything but the most loving consideration for any suggestion they might make. He did not often ask for counsel, for he believed, as he half humorously said, "in a Committee of one," and was impatient with those who must first discuss a scheme in solemn conclave before attempting it. To him it was too much like "fiddling while Rome was burning." He could not be said to "suffer fools gladly," but no one could be more tender, more truly sympathetic than he when the sorrowing sought comfort, the distressed needed relief, or the sinful cried out for pardon. With regard to his extravagance of speech, the adjectives were often many and big. But what of that? They were part of his temperament, of his large-hearted endowment of mind and heart, and there were always greater nouns behind the adjectives. Redemption, Grace, Holiness, Life, Love, were his themes, and no adjectives were big enough for him when he set out to speak of the glorious love of God.
His influence upon the Churches of Christ in this country was very marked. He was greatly beloved by the brethren, as much for the charm of his personality as for his powers as a preacher. He loved them for Christ's sake and knew no distinction of rich and poor; he was as glad to be in the home of the poor as in the mansion of the well-to-do. His greeting of each was equally warm and cordial and was entirely free from condescension or patronage. As a guest he was delightful, his cheery face, his warm hand-shake, his hearty infectious laughter made his coming an event to be remembered in many a home. As a preacher of the Gospel he brought about a decided change of view amongst the Churches. For many years the preaching which prevailed had been concerned with the doctrinal presentation of Truth and especially of certain phases, almost to the exclusion of evangelical truth as to sin and salvation. The desire was to emphasise the need for the restoration of Primitive Christianity, to plead for a return to the Apostolic simplicity and spirit; to find the basis of Christian unity in the teaching of the Word of God; and in this connection to call attention to the importance and place of Baptism in the Divine plan. This was a necessary and God-honouring work, and no one emphasised this phase of truth more than Sydney Black, but in addition, he urged upon the Churches the duty of appealing to sinful men to come to Jesus, on the ground of His love, His passion, and of their own great need. Mr. Black's view was that if men could thus be won for Christ, they would readily follow in the way of repentance, to witness an obedient and good confession in the Divinely appointed ordinance of Believers' Immersion. He pleaded with the Churches to put first things first. Instead of antagonising the religious opinions of the various denominations, he would have the Churches present a positive Gospel afire with the spirit of divine love. In his own words: "To dispel the darkness by showing the light." It may be that he put this view with something of crudity and over emphasis, but with such effect, that, as time went on, a gradual change took place in the form and manner in which the message of Salvation was presented; so that while not abating a whit of the insistence upon the foundation truths upon which the Churches are built, there is today a more truly evangelical note of urgency, of personal pleading, and a more constant uplifting of the Saviour of the World. In other words, while faithful to the testimony of the Apostles, the Churches have been led to a clearer study of the Gospels.
The esteem in which Sydney Black was held by his brethren is fittingly shown in the resolution which was passed at the Annual Conference held at Wigan in the year following his death. It was as follows:-
"That the brethren in Conference assembled desire to place on record their profound sense of loss sustained by the Churches of Christ in the lamented death of our beloved brother Sydney Black. They also express their high appreciation of his rare talents, untiring zeal and consecrated life, all of which he so cheerfully and lovingly laid upon the Altar of service for the Master and for the good of humanity. Furthermore they gratefully acknowledge the grace of God manifested in the noble example which our brother has left behind him, and pray that it may be emulated by the young brethren amongst us."
This reference to the young brethren was specially appropriate, for Mr. Black's influence upon young men was quite remarkable. To them he was at once teacher, companion and friend. He won their respect and inspired their affection. Here is an extract from a letter received recently from one of his young men:-
"Together with a few other young men, it was my privilege to come into touch with Sydney Black during the most impressionable years of our lives, and his influence upon us will never pass away. We still think of him and speak of him in the most affectionate terms, for we owe more to him that we shall ever be able to tell. Our conceptions of Christian consecration and service are traceable to him. It was his inspiring personality, his contagious enthusiasm and his unselfish devotion that moved us. We love his memory."
He understood the nature of the temptations that beset young men. He invited their confidence, detected their weakness, and was ever ready with wise counsel and admonition to point them to the source of strength.
"God buries his workman, but his work goes on," and today the activities of the Fulham Cross Mission and of the Church of Christ meeting in Twynholm Hall are as vigorous as ever. Under the capable direction of Mr. Robert Wilson Black, aided by the consecrated service of his brother-in-law, Mr. Charles W. Batten, there has been no falling off in efficiency, and the needs of the people are still met by constant and unwearied devotion on the part of leaders and workers. The Church grows in numbers and in grace; the same Gospel story is proclaimed, not, perhaps, with the same characteristic emphasis, but with a zeal reflecting that which burned in its first Evangelist, of whose life this is the record. From the human standpoint it seemed a sad loss and waste of precious usefulness and influence that he should be called hence in the fulness of his powers, and when, ordinarily, life should be at its best, yet so it was, and we can but bow to the Divine decree. His influence abides, the memory of his consuming zeal for holiness, of his irresistible and contagious enthusiasm for the salvation of men, of his faithfulness to principle, and of his genial and winning personality will remain as an encouragement, an example and a joy.
CHAPTER VI - THE PREACHER -
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SYDNEY BLACK'S greatest gift was undoubtedly his power of influencing men and women for their eternal good by his preaching. It was preaching plus personality, for the same address in the speech of lesser men would probably have failed to move. Examining the few addresses which remain in print, one can readily perceive that the effect they produced was due more to the intense and soul-stirring emphasis with which they were delivered, than to the subject matter. That was always clear, usually presented so as to be understood by the lowliest intellect; but it was the pleading tone, the earnest persuasion, the, at times, overwhelming passion with which he would urge his hearers to come to Christ which moved them to surrender. One very marked feature of his sermons was his constant glorifying of the Son of God. He was at his best then, carried away to heights of spiritual ecstacy during which he would pour out his praise in magnificent and soul-stirring language, seldom equalled, and never surpassed, by his contemporaries. Occasionally there would be a descent into bathos, but it would pass unnoticed, or rarely diverted the mind of his hearers from the main object of his address. There was also the natural exaggeration of fervid oratory, and a habit of repeating certain favourite phrases, which, to those who heard him frequently, was disconcerting. At times also the vehemence of his speaking, and its obvious strain upon himself, would affect his audience with a sense of physical distress; but when all this has been said, it still remains that he was a great preacher, and if the success of a preacher is to be measured by the number of those permanently influenced for Christ, then he was the greatest the community to which he religiously belonged has ever possessed. It was his constant endeavour to secure decisions for Christ. He never preached without expecting results, and he would count the effort lost if no one expressed a desire for the better way. He received many letters from those who were privileged to hear him, nearly all of them expressing sincere thanks for his message. This is one, typical of many others:-
"Having enjoyed the privilege of listening to your discourses at the Fulham Town Hall, I feel it to be a duty before leaving London to thank you for increased light. I am a member of the Established Church, but have never heard the Gospel so simply and clearly expounded before. ... I was much touched by seeing several rough fellows, who probably had never before entertained a thought of the state of their souls, paying the deepest attention while you expounded the 'Love of God.' I firmly believe you will reach men who would fly at the sight of a white cravat. May God, in whose strength you labour, preserve you and abundantly bless your efforts."
He never hesitated to speak of sin in most unsparing terms; to him it was not a tendency, nor a weakness in man, but rebellion against God, incited by the enemy of souls, who was as real to the preacher at times as if he were visibly present.
Here is a view of Sydney Black as a preacher, taken from an account of his mission in Glasgow in 1893:-
"When Sydney Black steps briskly to the front of the platform one realises at once that he is a man with a message, and we may add, who does not spare himself in its delivery. Every moment bespeaks energy. Of tall, commanding presence, he is a dark-haired, dark-bearded, pleasant-featured man, the picture of health and happiness.
"His voice at first does not fall pleasantly on the ear, but as one becomes more accustomed to it this harshness is not noticeable. There is no difficulty in following him. Each heading in his subject is logically and lucidly enunciated, then when the truth he has been propounding is laid bare, his whole being bends to the task of driving it home.
"One cannot but be impressed by his magnificent memory. He never speaks from notes. Scripture passages, either as rendered in the Revised or Authorised Version, are all quoted from memory. In this respect he is almost, if not quite, unique among our Evangelists. He has also a rich repertory of anecdote; poetry, sacred and secular; and quotations from standard authors, from which he liberally and effectively culls in the course of his addresses. Plainly he is an omnivorous reader, able to take a comprehensive and masterly grip of the social and the logical questions of the day.
"The most striking characteristic, however, is his intense soul-stirring earnestness; and this Pauline zeal, combined with the talent to play deftly the whole gamut of human emotions, undoubtedly explains his success in winning souls for Christ.
"His oratory is not merely the kind that pleases the ear, it deeply stirs the heart, because his pleading is the compassionate pleading of one touched by the magic spell of Christ's love for his brother man. He evidently realizes that the Evangel of Christ is a 'savour of life into life or of death into death,' much too solemn a matter of speak of lightly. And yet while that is so, he is not without humour of a healthy, exhilarating quality."
In place of extracts from Sydney Black's addresses it has been thought more desirable to present one sermon of his, which illustrates his powers of exposition and appeal. It will form a fitting conclusion to the book. It is upon the theme in which he delighted most, "The Love of God," and upon a text which has been the basis of all great evangelical appeal from time immemorial.
THE EXTREME RESOURCE OF DIVINE PHILANTHROPY.
A SERMON BY SYDNEY BLACK
As reprinted from the "Australian Christian Standard" for September and October, 1890.
Retyped 1996 by R.M. Payne,
Basis of sermon:-
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John iii. 16).
It is certainly somewhat remarkable that during seven long years of exacting and aggressive evangelistic experience all over the country, we have never, until tonight, ventured to expound this wonderful and time-honoured passage to the public. Having during that period delivered nearly eighteen hundred disquisitions upon Holy Scripture, we have never previously based our observations exclusively upon this transcendently majestic utterance of our Divine Lord.
And even now, occupying once again this essentially evangelical platform, from which we have humbly endeavoured to sound out heaven's large-hearted message since we were but nineteen years of age, we have to claim that indulgence, never previously withheld, as we express our limited thoughts upon a theme which might well employ an angel's tongue.
In the unprecedented impulse given by Professor Max Moeller and others to the study of the comparative history of religions, and especially to the distinguishing characteristics of such great heathen systems as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism, we strongly suspect that many of us have been slightly in danger of overlooking the distinguishing peculiarities of our own. This is indeed a tremendous mistake. To such an extent, forsooth, has the fulsome adulation of Gautama Buddha and his mystic speculations proceeded, that in one of our great Lancashire cities today we have a large and influential society of Buddhists, composed for the most part of young men, ostensibly banded together to starve out the Trishna, and by ceaseless and stupendous efforts of self-suppression to attain unto some inexplicable form of Nirvana. We strongly suspect that Sir Edwin Arnold's most fascinating poem, "The Light of Asia," has had largely to do with the inauguration of this startling organisation.
But what means this new heathen movement in our midst? It means that we Christians have been so insanely impervious to the highest interests of our Redeeming God, that we have been largely missing the glorious end we have in view in the construction and perfunctory use of mere ecclesiastical machinery, and thereby keeping out of sight, to a deplorable extent, the great distinguishing marks of our holy religion. We have been losing the end in the means.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were constantly agitating themselves with the question, "What is the summum bonum of our life?" or, "What is the chief end of man?" Would to God that in this nineteenth century, and in this great big city of ours, we Christians were continually asking ourselves, "What is our summum bonum, as redeemed men and women?" What is the outcome of all our efforts and all our machinery? What is the ideal conception of Christian desire and ambition? Amid all the trivialities of our terrestrial experience what is the pearl of great price to secure which we would part with all other pearls? What are the elements which will assuredly abide when we have done with this fleeting and fantastic world?
Our text is to answer these practical questions. Herein lies a concise compendium of the permanent elements of the Christian religion. Here we have the everlasting Gospel in a nutshell. God help us to preach it with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven! In this multum in parvo discourse our Divine Lord, in dispensing His midnight theology to the Jewish ruler, clearly intimates that love is the centre and circumference of the religion enforced by the world's final Speaker.
In expounding this passage, then, tonight, may we fix your earnest attention upon six points, which would appear fairly to cover the ground traversed by the heavenly Speaker on this ever memorable occasion.
I. Firstly, we have here presented to us
THE GREAT GIVER.
"For God so loved the world that He gave ..." Yes, indeed, God Himself is the Giver. Now, in order rightly to appreciate a gift, it would seem essential to know something about the giver. To a thankful and worthy recipient the intrinsic value of a gift is as nothing compared with the personality whose esteem and regard it embodies. A gift of small intrinsic value may be esteemed as of greater worth than all the riches of Croesus, or the wealth of the Indies, if behind it lies a big, throbbing, affectionate heart.
And is it not thus with the eternal God? If we would estimate aright the wealth of His magnificent gift, may we not devoutly enquire what there is attaching itself to His distinguished Personality which lies behind the gift? While on the one hand the smallest manifestation, in actual value, of a heart of affection, is highly esteemed and treasured; on the other hand, taking all the environments into account, the size of our present is surely somewhat of a gauge of the size of our hearts. In this latter particular our Great Giver infinitely excels. He had a heart that could encompass the world, and His present was - Himself!
Not only is it necessary to know something about the Giver, but it seems also equally essential to know the Giver Himself. Indeed, this is life eternal. Paul did not say concerning his Lord, "That I may know about Him," but "That I may know Him." (Phil. iii. 10.)
Of one thing, dear hearers, we may rest assured, and that is, if we desire to know the Great Giver we have come to the right theologian to get to know. We have indeed a splendid revelation of God in the Johannine writings. It is certainly true that for the most part John, like other sacred writers, leaves the student of God's nature and character to form his own conception - though sometimes it may be crude - from what is recorded of His action in religious history; but in at least three concise, crisp, comprehensive phrases he has set forth once for all the great limits within which our thoughts on the Divine nature must be confined. The first statement is in the fourth Gospel, in John's narrative of our Lord's words concerning the sincere worship of God, and is as follows:-
(a) "God is Spirit" (John iv.24). The second is in his first epistle:-
(b) "God is Light" (I John i.5). The third is in the same epistle:-
(c) "God is Love" (I John iv.8, 16).
It may be well to note that recent criticism has made it clear that these incisive phrases do not merely denote "properties" of God, as God is merciful, or God is tender; but that their content is that of the essential aspects of His nature, regarded from different standpoints. May we venture briefly to look at them in the most reverent spirit. And as we regard them, we shall doubtless be struck with the evolution of thought which they present, each conception being taken up and developed by the succeeding one.
(a) Firstly, then, God is Spirit. This conception would appear to denote God in Himself and His Being. It certainly expresses no moral relation to the universe. It is a purely metaphysical, yet supremely necessary statement. It is rather suggestive of Divine nature than Divine personality. It informs us what God is rather than who He is. It implies that God is not one out of numerous spirits, but Spirit - absolute, eternal, unchangeable Spirit. If you refer to the margin of the Revised Version (John iv. 24), you will find not "God is a Spirit," but simply and accurately, "God is Spirit." This conception lifts Him into the infinite regions, millions of miles above the narrow limitations of time and space. It is the monopoly of the Apostle of Love. Definition was the Johannine forte. He initiates us into absolutely startling and magnificent ideas of God. This conception is not hinted at by the monotheistic writers of the Old Testament. True, the Spirit of God is there portrayed in helpful and significant manifestation; but the noblest Hebrew thought of God's nature was literally steeped in references, from which it is impossible for us to extricate ourselves from the idea of limitation. "Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto Me?"
The fact is God, qua God is Spirit, is utterly beyond the soaring imagination of mankind. He transcends human ken. That God is only cognisable through the knowledge of His attributes is a truism. No object can be known by us as a bare existence. It is only as possessed of qualities that any being can exist or act. In the sense in which some speak of knowing God in Himself there is no God to know. Thank God, we possess something more tangible than the ridiculous abstractions of German philosophers, who have got out of their depth. "The essence of God," says Professor Flint, "is simply the nature of God as inclusive, not exclusive, of all the perfections which belong to God, and which distinguish Him from His creatures." Indeed, it is impossible to know that He is unless we have some slight recognition of what He is.
The material vision of God is impossible. "No man hath seen God at any time." But there is a glorious moral and life-giving view of God through the Christ. From the exclusive standpoint of this metaphysical definition of John, God can neither be seen nor known. O beloved hearers, if John had left us here we should indeed of all men have been the most miserable. Our burdened and weary spirits, panting like the hart after the permanent elements of religion, would in the agony of dark despair be exclaiming, "I cannot grasp the conception. It is intangible. It is fantastic and unhuman. It is unreadable. It is high; I cannot attain unto it." Then you continue, "I must have a God. My spirit yearns for dependence upon a higher power; for fellowship with a sympathising and superior intelligence; and for progress in a moral and spiritual life of refinement."
O thou last of all the sacred penmen, hast thou no brighter definition of God to leave with these aspiring souls?
(b) And now John takes the next step in this Divine development of thought. He informs us that "God is light." He does not suggest that God "is a light," or even "the light of the world," but that "God is light." It is another and a nearer definition of God's nature, and not of His dealings. It simply means that God is absolute intellectual and moral truth, as the antithesis of falsehood. It introduces us to the kingdom of mind, and to the area and environment of action, as they relate to truth. God is all-knowing and supremely holy. With Him is no ignorance of mind as He calmly surveys a realistic and idealistic universe. No foul, dark spot can be discerned upon His robes of unapproachable purity. O thou daring intruder, who dost thoughtlessly and unpreparedly rush into the presence chamber of Jehovah, take off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
This light, then, is not simply the sphere of His abode, for He Himself is light. In Him is no darkness at all. Here we have infinite self-distribution and diffusiveness throughout the whole creation of God. That which is pure, glorious and stately permeates it through and through. It is the revelation of a God of spotless purity, of supreme dignity, of inviolable rectitude, of almost Greek symmetrical perfection. It is the dazzling sunbeam of burning light from the clear sky of awful sacredness. Like the seraphim in Isaiah's vision, let us veil our faces and cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the fulness of the whole earth is His glory."
Though this idea of God in His moral relations to the entire universe is not distinctly an Hebrew one, yet it appears to underlie the thought of the Divine glory, even in the Hexateuch. We read of Sinai and its tragic wonders, "And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel."
Seeking souls, let not this blaze of white light upset your mental and moral equilibrium. Cry out for a nearer revelation, and assuredly thou shalt not be disappointed. John has yet more to say. We tell you our God is verily the most misunderstood Being in the world. We greatly fear that, regarded exclusively from the standpoint of these two definitions, and as largely interpreted through the lurid haze of men's flighty and suspicious imaginations, He is conceived of as an unapproachable God, as a God of inflexible austerity, of jealousy and hardness, self-seeking and unkind; creating only to crush; placing suns in the universe simply to snuff them out; forming mis-shaped vessels simply to dash them to pieces; bringing fallen humanity into existence to crush, flail and damn. Is that a right conception of the "Shining God?" We assure you it is entirely the reverse. It is surely a desperate mixture of heaven's inviolable sacredness and purity with the dark exploits of self-assertion and moral suicide.
Basking in this eternal canopy of light, then, as we pass on to a final and soul-filling definition, we can but exclaim with Thomas Binney, in the stateliest hymn ever written:-
"Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be,
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight,
Can live, and look on Thee!
The spirits that surround Thy throne,
May bear the burning bliss;
But that is surely theirs alone,
Since they have never, never known,
A fallen world like this.
O how shall I whose native sphere,
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the Ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?"
And echo answers, How? How? How?
"(c) John now leads us on to a magnificent height, as he assures us that "God is Love."
This is the third and culminating definition of God. That glorious display of Divine effulgence might almost have intimidated us from Him, but see here how the golden sceptre is extended that we may touch the top of it and live! Here is Personality definitely and beneficiently revealed. It is not now simply what God is, but what relations does He sustain to us as individuals? How does he treat us?
The Greek word, as we shall see, expresses self-sacrificing personality. The idea is not merely that of unlimited self-diffusiveness, but a self-diffusiveness which seeks and obtains an immediate response. Here we have God enticing a recognition not only of glory, but of goodness.
The "Spirit," then, of which we have spoken is pure, refined, unadulterated, spontaneous love! And the "Light" we have described is Love Shining! Alleluia! The mystery is solved.
Again with Binney we exclaim, in profound adoration:-
"There is a way for man to rise,
To that sublime abode:
An Offering and a Sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit's energies,
An Advocate with God:
These, these prepare us for the sight,
Of holiness above;
The sons of ignorance and night,
May dwell in the Eternal Light,
Through the Eternal Love!"
This love is original. It is not evolved. It answers to God's inmost nature, and finds its only source in Him, and not in man. In the Old Testament, as a recent writer points out, love is an attribute of God. In the New Testament love is the Being of God. This is indeed, the crowning stroke of the Johannine theology, and of the Apostolic writings.
Thus does the Great God approach us, to speak unto us. Today, if thou wilt hear His voice, harden not thy heart, as in the provocation. Here and now we are to be plied with the demonstrations of an Eternal Father's love, which are verily beaming upon a guilty and rebellious race from a Saviour's countenance, and descending upon it with softest, sweetest, tenderest accents from a Saviour's lips.
O sin-tossed men and women, this is the God that offers you the gift. We entreat you to accept it by opening your moral, physical and spiritual natures to the Giver. O mystery of mysteries! O problem of the ages! The Giver and the Gift are ONE!
II. May we now briefly consider somewhat more in extenso,
"THE GREAT MOTIVE
prompting the Gift. It is almost unnecessary to point out that the motive is "Love." "God so loved the world that He gave ..."
Have we any adequate conception of this great quality? We have just noticed its outshining, as God's nature, in its personal relation to the human family. Let us now look a little more narrowly into this intensely important quality, for herein lies the very kernel of the Gospel. The verb agapaw, to which the Greek word translated in this passage "loved" belongs, may be traced in Greek literature from the time of Homer. But it is wonderfully instructive to note that the kindred noun agaph, belongs exclusively to the range of sacred literature. It is first found in the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures used by our blessed Lord Himself. While, however, it is found but fifteen times in the Septuagint, and not once in the Pentateuch, it is found in every book in the New Testament, excepting the Gospel of Mark, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistle of James.
Now there are several things in connection with the remarkable quality represented by this word that we may here note. Dr. Westcott has recently pointed out very lucidly the various relations in which it is found in the New Testament.
(a) In the first place it is used to connote the feeling of the Divine Father for the Divine Son, "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hands." John iii. 35.
(b) Again it describes the feeling of the Father towards a ruined world, "For God so loved the world ..." John iii. 16.
(c) It refers, thirdly to the feeling of the Eternal Father for loving and obedient men, "If a man love Me, he will keep My word: and My Father will love him." John xiv. 23. And again, when Jesus came to a certain point in that intercessorial prayer of infinite tenderness, and in referring to His disciples, He said, "That the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them even as Thou lovedst Me." John xvii. 23. O wonderful revelation! All the intensity of absolute love lavished upon the Divine Son by the Divine Father is lavished upon the little company of disciples, and lavished upon you and me! When we think over it, and try to realise it, we are free to confess to you that we are so overwhelmed with the conception that we can scarcely proceed with our remarks.
Then this love is reciprocal. For, again, the same word is employed to describe:-
(d) The feeling of the Divine Son for the Divine Father, "That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do." John xiv. 31.
(e) Again it expressed the feeling of the Son for His followers, both individually and collectively, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus." John xi. 5. And again, "Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the uttermost." John xiii. 1.
From these and kindred portions, it must be abundantly evident that God is love, both in His nature, and in His revelation of Himself. Now this great quality, so far as it relates to mankind as its object, is not spontaneous emotion produced by some heauty, merit or devotion in the object upon which it is centred. On the contrary, it is an expression of character determined by will. In this sense agaph is the unselfish and voluntary impartation to others of what we are, and of what we have. It expresses self-abnegation as the direct antithesis of self-assertion.
God, then, in His nature is pure unselfishness. The creating and upholding of the world are in essence a continued manifestation of His nature, but his self-abnegation in Redemption is the very consummation of the Divine counsel in creation, in the very teeth of the horrible intrusion of self-assertion, which is moral suicide. Now in view of the fact that agapaw occurs in heathen as well as in sacred literature, and that agaph appears in the Septuagint, Archbishop Trench, in his splendid work on New Testament synonyms, points out that they could not have been understood in their true and startling significance until Jesus Christ came into the world - the Revelation of Divine unselfishness. In truth agaph is a quality 'born within the bosom of revealed religion.' This noun never appears outside revelation, because the quality it represents does not appear. It is hard to understand the significance attached to the verb in the writings of Homer and others, seeing that amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans there was no possible raison d'etre for its true usage. The ethics of Greece and Rome were based on fearful self-assertion, both in the state and in the individual. But the very essence of this word is unselfishness. The explanation would seem to be that the Divine Spirit, in taking of the things of God and revealing them unto us by His own selected instrumentality, has sanctioned and perhaps suggested this glorious connotation of a word used in a far different sense by the cultured ancients.
Even Judaism was a stranger to this conception of God. It was profoundly ignorant of absolute unselfishness. The world was utterly without any manifestation of it until Jesus Christ came to reveal the nature of God. And when He appeared He said, "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." And again, "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven."
According to the moral law, men were expected to love one another, but to do so in the way in which God loves us demanded a new revelation, which should alter the centre of the gravity of ethics, and place mankind in a completely new relationship to God and to each other. It has been well said that before Jesus Christ came love was in men's hearts, but not the love deliberately exercised by an unselfish nature. There was (1) Natural love - the affection manifested by those through whose veins the same blood flows. This is the love of kith and kin. There was (2) Patriotic love - the affection for Fatherland and for each other, exercised by those of the same nationality. There was (3) Admiring love - produced by noble deeds, and frequently expressing itself in shrines and temples. There was (4) Grateful love - evolved by deeds of courage and self-denial, enacted on man's behalf by his fellow-man. And there was (5) Complacent love - produced by lovable qualities in the object of its attraction. All these are beautiful and sacred forms of love, but, taken en masse, they most inadequately portray the love of God. The peculiarity and uniqueness of God's love are its thorough disinterestedness. God's love is not relative; it is absolute. It is not produced by any beauty, merit, nobility, or community of nature and purpose in its object. True, we love because He first loved us, but we nowhere find that He loved because we first loved Him! Did you ever think of that? God cannot help loving you because He is love. If God did otherwise than love you He would change His nature and cease to be God. He was a loving Father from all eternity. He was the everlasting Father before He was a Creator, Judge, or Supreme Ruler. Creation and providence are but prior manifestations of the Divine unselfishness, which culminated in the beautiful babe of Bethlehem, and the tragedy of the cross of Calvary.
Dear hearers, no mother ever loved her child with a tithe of the love with which God loves you. He has lavished upon you - and cannot do otherwise - all the resources of His infinite nature and world-embracing affection. He loves you - not because you deserve to be loved - not because you have accomplished anything to merit His love - not because you asked to be loved - not even because you needed His love, but because He is love. O if thou wert only half as willing to be saved as God is to save thee, thou wouldst here and now surrender thyself wholly to Him. Listen, then, to His declaration, as He gently draws us to His adorable self, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake."
He is able, willing, and anxious to forgive thee, and to change thy stubborn heart for His own sake. "O that thou mayest be willing in the day of His power!"
We are led to conclude from these considerations that God's nature being unselfishness, and his motive unselfishness, God's nature and God's motive are one. God is always true to Himself, and hence absolutely disinterested love is at the base of all His dealings with mankind. We Christians, too, always find our natures and our motives identical; but, alas! alas! we have a lower nature as well as a Godlike nature, and we continually have to probe ourselves to find out which nature it is our actions embody. O that we may keep the spirit nature in the ascendancy! God help us to starve out the old nature by persistently feeding and sustaining the new. So shall our motives ever be identical with the God-imparted gift of unselfish love!
Now arises the question, how far was the Divine unselfishness prepared to proceed? That question must be answered under our next head,
III. THE GREAT GIFT.
"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." What does that mean? It means that God had a heart as big as the sun, and that His gift is correspondingly vast. It means that unselfish love is never fully satisfied until it gives itself. It means that Divine love was prepared, in the interests of mankind, to proceed until it could not take another step! It means that when God gives Himself, it is the extreme resource of Divine philanthropy. That little word so equals all that follows of our text. It assures us that God could not manifest His unselfish self to the world in any more striking and beneficient fashion. It declares to us the moral impossibility of God doing other than He has done, providing His love is to be the basis of the world's regeneration.
O perishing sinner, here indeed is glorious news for thee! Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and God shall shine upon thee! God is here pouring forth upon thee all the resources of unlimited love. What a revelation!
Love is self-sacrifice as opposed to self-seeking. Love is life. Selfishness is death. Love is communion. Selfishness is separation. God has shown the dimensions of His great heart by the dimensions of His great sacrifice.
A little boy was at a crowded and inspiring foreign missionary meeting. His spirit was mightily stirred within him as he listened to the speeches of the deputation, representing various fields of enterprise. An earnest appeal for funds was made, followed by the inevitable collection. Our little friend in the gallery had not a penny piece in his pocket. With a pang of emotion he was compelled to allow the plate to pass him, but his heart was filled with noble resolve. His opportunity was yet to come. He waited until everybody else had passed out at the end of the meeting, and as he was leaving the gallery the collector was still holding out the plate, doing his duty to the very last. Turning his beaming face upwards our hero exclaimed, "Do you mind holding the plate a little lower?" "Certainly, my boy," was the reply, as he suited the action to the words. "Lower still," continued the boy. The plate was held still lower. "Do you mind putting it down on the floor?" persisted our hero. The plate was placed on the floor, and quickly stepping on to it, the lad triumphantly exclaimed, "I have no money to give to India, but I give myself." That was the size of his throbbing heart. His heart was three times four. His offering was four times three!
And so God's great gift exactly represents the extent of His love. And what is that? Boundless! Unlimited! Eternal! What is the gift? The Authorised and Revised Versions tell us it is "His only begotten Son." The word in the original, however, is monogenh, which was never intended in the Johannine writings, or in sacred literature generally, to signify "only begotten"; but simply only or unique. It refers to the absolute oneness of the Being of the Father in a way altogether singular. The idea is not that of generation. That insoluble truth is represented by another phrase entirely in the New Testament. The idea undoubtedly is, in this connection, that of a personal existence of a really unique character. We are quite surprised that in the Revised Version we have "only begotten," instead of "unique," and that the original simple conception has been permitted to have incorporated with it an idea of generation, which only became associated with it many decades after John wrote. We are unable to explain how this conception can have been admitted, seeing that the same word, according to nearly all the ancient authorities, is applied to God Himself in John i. 18. Indeed we have this stated in the margin of the Revised Version; and to speak of "the only begotten God" savours of heresy, which almost makes one shudder.
Our text indicates, then, that God gave His unique Son. He had, and can have, but one Son of this completely unique character and substance. And note carefully, God must have had the present to give before He could sacrifice Himself in giving it. The history of the Divine Son begins not in the manger in Bethlehem, but with all eternity. The Eternal Logos is the Eternal Son. Of the Son, we read in Col. i. 15-17: "Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in him all things consist." It was surely real self-abnegation which sent down from yonder sapphire throne the Son, "who, being in the form of God, counted it not a thing to be grasped at to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross." God gave, and truly He had something to part with! And moreover, this was not a loan, but a gift! Jesus Christ is not lent to the human race, He has come to stay. And so the life and death of the Son of God link hands in human experience. God has given the dying Christ for us, that He might give the living Christ to us. And we must come to His death before we can get to His life. "For if, while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life." Theologians dream of a "limited atonement." We tell them, in view of these things, that a "limited atonement" involves a "limited incarnation." If Jesus only died for some, he only lived and lives for some. Let there be no mistake here. He came to His life and then to His death. We come to His death and then to His life. That is to say, dear soul, if thou wouldst have the Son of God as thine own permanent possession, thou must place thyself in a position in which He will come to stay, by plunging into the fountain opened in Judah for the guilty conscience, and by clinging to the virtue of His death. Thus, freed from a burdened conscience, thou art ready for transformation in to the Divine likeness by the power of the Indwelling Guest - the Unique Son who, by His Spirit, comes to abide!
O that we could more effectually impress this two-fold consideration upon every seeker in this congregation. From the inmost soul we assure thee, O man, that we literally abhor that conception of our salvation provided by the Son of God, which represents both it and Him as a species of life-saving apparatus! Do not, we entreat thee, go away with the erroneous idea that God sent His unique Son into the world for the sole purpose of providing a way of escape from impending wrath. He most certainly did that, but a thousand times more than that Jesus Christ came down from heaven to earth to lift us up from earth to heaven - legally, morally and spiritually. That is exactly the reason why God's gift is permanent and abiding. That is why His Son has come to stay. The restoration of holiness is the grand aim and ideal of the whole scheme of redemption. Dost thou say Christ lived, and died, and rose again to rid thee of thine accusing and guilty conscience, and that thou seekest no sacrifice beside? Aye, but we tell thee, He died to make thee a better man.
"He died that we might be forgiven;
He died to make us good.
He died to save us from the guilt of sin. But He also died to save us from the power of sin. He died to procure forgiveness for sins of deepest dye. But he also died to eradicate the horrible plague infecting the whole human race. "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases." He died to pardon the reeling drunkard; but he also died to put out the fiery thirst, and to radically restore the blasted home. Thus, through Jesus' pardoning blood, we may be justified as to sin, that it may not condemn; we may be sanctified as to sin, that it may not reign, and we may be glorified as to sin, that it may not be!
O guilty soul, rest thy burdened conscience on the merits of His blood, and then open thine heart for the reception of God's unfailing Gift - the Unique Son - the Divine Spirit - the new life - the unselfish love!
IV. Again our text suggests to us the thought of
"THE GREAT MULTITUDE.
May we then hastily notice the area over which this Divine philanthropy extends, 'God so loved the world ... that whosoever ...'
From the signification of kosmoV as the material universe - a frequent New Testament signification - there succeeded, very naturally, that conception of it as the framework of things in which man lives and moves; which exists for him; and of which he may be regarded as the centre (John xvi. 21). And then, finally, it came to signify the men themselves - the sum total of those living in the world, as in our text and John i. 29.
This is, then a cosmopolitan word - that adjective being derived from it. It is absolutely impossible for us to escape inclusion within its scope. He who tries to limit it, to prop up the strangled myth of a 'limited atonement,' is guilty of a philological monstrosity, which would be positively amusing if it were not so cruelly distressing. Be assured, then, doubting souls, that God's unselfishness is as unlimited objectively as it is subjectively. God's very nature and essence preclude the idea of the exclusion of a single soul from within the pale of this infinite assurance.
And, as if this were not sufficient, and to give mankind a double assurance, we are here confronted, in the relative clause, with the word whosoever. Truly here are pastures where the impartial Shepherd leads about the disconsolate and dubious of His universal flock. O wandering sheep, come home, come home!
"THE WORLD! WHOSOEVER!
Every letter is worth a world! Every letter weight a ton! These blessed expressions are broad as the heavens, deep as the eternal ocean, and vast as eternity itself. God be praised, there is no distinction with Him. If His love be absolute and not relative, it cannot, of a necessity, be bounded or limited. We say deliberately that to exclude one, God must change His nature.
Our text suggests to us that God so loved the world that he wants more children. His desire is to permanently enlarge the boundaries of His family. He has a unique Son, but even He does not exhaust the resources of His love. He wants millions and millions more sons and daughters, and to bring this about, He sends down His only and dearly beloved One to fit them, and love them, and fetch them!
If there be one here tonight who imagines that there is room in the heart of God and of Christ for him, and not for his friend or brother, step up here on to the rostrum, and inform us what there is about you to render you an eternal favourite of the God with whom we have to do! We undertake to say that when you present yourself to us, your very appearance will be against you!
Jesus Christ steps out from His heavenly mansions to this sin-cursed earth of ours, places one foot upon the land, and the other foot upon the sea, and with a tender yet far-reaching voice, pulsating with infinite beneficience, he exclaims -
"I represent my Father's heart,"
He loves you all! He loves you all!
"I and my Father are one,"
I love you all! I love you all!
None need perish, since I have died!
V. And once again may we call your attention to
"THE GREAT RESULT.
It surely devolves upon us to point out the result of accepting the gift our philanthropic God is offering to us. In other words, so far as it relates to a lost world, we are to view the design of the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of the Son of God.
The result described here is two-fold, negative and positive, "That whosoever believeth on Him (1) should not perish, but (2) have eternal life."
The Gospel of Jesus Christ never leaves the human race, or any part of it, in a merely negative position. The ideal it sets before us can never be reached until we take a positive and decided stand upon its feasible proposals. The Gospel, as we have before hinted, is often presented as though it simply signified the being saved from everlasting punishment, and the escaping - by the skin of our teeth - from impending wrath. It is all this, but infinitely more. True, we must come out of the darkness ere we can stand in the light. True, we must "cease to do evil" before we can "learn to do well." True, we must put off the old man ere we can put on the new. But yet, in our estimation, the Gospel denotes not so much the coming out of darkness, as the standing in the light, and feeling its sunshine - not so much dying unto sin as living unto God. A message which only suggests salvation from guilt is only half a Gospel, and only half a truth. And what is worse, it is the selfish half. It leads men to consider neither God nor His Son, nor their fellows; but only that most despicable of all motives for being good - to get off to heaven as quickly as possible.
Enquirers sometimes show their hand when they quite inadvertently remark to us, at the close of our meetings, "O sir, my sense of indwelling sin so humbles me, that I feel if I am only counted worthy to get into heaven at all, and to crouch down just inside the everlasting gates, at the remotest niche from the Throne of the Lamb, I shall be perfectly satisfied." We reply, "Stay one moment, dear friend; that part of heaven must have been crowded out long ago, and, doubtless, millions of your species have been for ages waiting for every inch of standing room that may be left. Poor bilious soul, if thou has no higher ambition than this, we almost despair of any fitness whatsoever for the everlasting habitations." We tell you it is positively dishonouring to our dear Lord, and to His finished work, to attempt to utilise Him just in so far as we would escape condemnation. There is not a breath of this in our text. It not only negatively asserts that if we accept the gift of God we shall not perish, but it also roundly declares that everlasting life is ours. Now life and death are here placed in direct antithesis. They are poles asunder. Nevertheless, we think if we see and know what the life is, its antithesis will be at once so apparent as to need, for this evening's purposes, no further elucidation.
What then, is the eternal life so positively promised to those who believe in the Son? We appeal to the apostle of love once more to report to us how our Divine Lord Himself defines it to us, once and for ever. "This is life eternal that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ" (John xvii. 3). Does it seem strange to thee to be told that life is knowledge? Art thou asking thyself, as thou considerest the definition, "Is the spirit's life the study of religion? Is the great eternal future a university of sacred learning? This may be the scholar's heaven," you continue, "but it has very little charm for me."
But may we remind you that knowledge is a word of more than one significance. The knowledge of God which is termed life, is little akin to that knowledge of Him called theology, or the universe interpreted through the idea of God. There is indeed a mighty distinction between knowing God and knowing about God. There is the knowledge of God gained from the study of sacred literature; and the direct knowledge emanating from experience and feeling. By the former we know God's mind; by the latter we feel God's heart.
Astronomy tells us there is a sun; that it is ninety-six millions of miles from the earth; that certain gases are in its vicinity; and that the earth sustains a certain relationship to it in the solar system. Now, all this is very interesting and fascinating, but, beloved hearers, I know there is a sun, not because astronomers tell me so, but because I see it; and I know that the sun is warm because I feel it.
So it is in the spiritual realm. I know there is a "Sun of Righteousness" because I see Him reflected, as in a mirror, in the lives and faces of redeemed humanity. And I know that "Sun" is warm because I feel my breast beating and pulsating in unison with God's great heart.
Thus the knowledge of God, which is eternal life, is not that knowledge - very important in its place - which comes by adding fact to fact, and inference to inference, in long and laborious research, but that knowledge which is an immediate, irresistible and penetrating force in our lives. In other words, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit!
Whence, then, comes this great gift of life? From what source does the Holy Spirit emanate?
Now we have seen that God is Spirit, that God is light, and that God is love. We venture just here to add a fourth Johannine definition, and point out that God is life, in relation to all who would enter His Spirit-endowed family. We here pass from the idea of God Himself to the revelation of God in man. God is the source of eternal life. We have seen that God is Spirit, and that this spirit is love. We have seen that God is light, and that this light is 'love shining'; now we see that God is life to all who will fling open their natures to receive Him; and that this life is also love because this life is God, and God is love. We have seen that this love is unselfish, because absolute. And if God dwell in us, and God is love, and love is unselfishness, then it must follow that pure absolute unselfishness dwells in us, and
"THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE!
Now the old question is answered, "Will God indeed dwell with man?" Listen to the words of Jesus: "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive." Thus it appears that the unselfish God is to be reproduced in us, and we can only be Christians just in so far as we realise it.
It is further very instructive to notice that the identical Greek words we have already referred to, as describing the feelings of the Divine Father and Son, reciprocally and otherwise, are actually employed to describe the feeling of men: (1) for the Father, (2) for the Son, (3) for the brethren, and, (4) for life. So that we are expected to love God, and Jesus Christ, and one another, with absolute, God-imparted, disinterested affection. This is "life eternal" for "the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given unto us." We are to be miniature "Suns of Righteousness," walking about this dark, sin-stricken world, lighting men and women to eternity. That is to say, we are to incarnate the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, which presents us with a luminous exposition of the characteristics of this love - all of which are fraternal! And how far are we to go? We answer, "Just so far as Jesus Christ went." His love for us led Him to Calvary; and if that same love dwells in us, we must, if needs be, toil up to our Golgotha for our brethren!
Death is the antithesis of this. If to live is to know God, and Jesus Christ; then to perish is to be ignorant of God and Jesus Christ. If life be "the communion of the Holy Spirit," then to perish is to hold communion with Satan - the eternal Ego - the embodiment of selfishness. If "life" is the Great Spirit taking possession of our little spirits; then "perishing" is dying to our spirit's highest and purest interests.
O men and women, here and now we place before you life and death, blessing and cursing, love and hate, God and Satan. We entreat you, we implore you, at once - without a moment's delay - to choose life, blessing, love and God!
VI. Lastly, a word upon
"THE GREAT CONDITION.
"That whosoever believeth on Him ..." Here we have the age-abiding principle of faith presented to us, as the condition of life eternal. This is both Scriptural and scientific. It is precisely what we have been anticipating. If life be the experimental knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, how can we possess such knowledge unless we believe on Him? How can we commune with one in whom we do not implicitly trust? But ere the Divine Spirit, the Saviour's Representative, can take complete possession of our natures, and we thus become possessed of the power of an endless life, we must clearly demonstrate that our faith is implicit and unwavering. This must be accomplished by our attention to some specific act of obedience, as a pledge that the Spirit's work shall hereinafter be in no wise hindered in our lives by wilful self-assertion, which is the root of all sin.
During our Lord's earthly ministry, He invariably looked for "faith in action," ere He recognised and rewarded it as the genuine article. Blind Bartimus had faith; but a faith that importunately cried out, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." Jairus had faith; but not a faith that indolently stayed at home, but that went out and fetched the Son of God. The poor woman with the issue of blood had faith: but it was a faith that laughed at impossibilities, and cried, "It shall be done." And it was done; for her trembling touch sent a blood-staunching shock of healing power from the Great Physician right through her stricken frame. In these and all other cases, before life, healing or cleansing are imparted by the Son of God we see "faith in action." In these cases we notice faith crying out to Jesus; and faith laying hold on Jesus.
So it is tonight with every applicant for eternal life. Your faith must be "faith in motion," or it is the faith of demons. True, you cannot address your Lord in person: you cannot fetch Him to your dwelling; nor can you touch the hem of His apparel; but you can, and you ought, aye, and you must - if you would enter into life - surrender in one specific act of faith and love, to the claims of Him who said, "He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved." This beautiful symbolic act is heaven's own appointed means, by which we are enabled not only to come "into Christ," to "put on Christ," and, as believing penitents, to receive "the remission of sins"; but also to pledge ourselves to be henceforth led by the Spirit's teaching, filled with the Spirit's love, and to exchange the self-assertion, which is living death, for the Indwelling God, which is eternal life.
Depend upon it, there is no faith alone in this much abused passage. In fact, literally rendered, it would read, "Whosoever believeth into Him," or, in other words, "whosoever exercises such simple trust as impels him to come into Him." The faith which is crowned with eternal life is the faith that leads us to "put on Christ"; and if we have Christ on, we must necessarily be in Him. We have come into Him because we have sincerely trusted His living love and dying merits. But how do we come into Him? Let Paul inform us. He says, "Ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were immersed into Christ did put on Christ" (Gal. iii. 26-27). That is very simple. It is self-explanatory.
O that many in this congregation tonight may thus be begotten by the Spirit, through faith, and be born of water, in this highly important act of consecration, and thus allow the Divine Spirit to have all His own way with them!
We now leave these matters with you. We implore you not to let the day of patient grace go by. Now that a way at once so palpable and so accessible has been provided - when, in the lack of all righteousness of your own, the righteousness of God in Christ is held out to you, that you may robe yourself in it, and appear before heaven, invested in all its honours, and crowned with its eternal rewards - when God has thus embarked the very credit of His honesty upon the fulfilment of His assurance, that if you will but close with Christ, and accept of Him as proffered to you in the gospel, you shall receive with Him an unfaltering benediction here, and a blissful eternity hereafter - when these things are urged upon your attention, week after week, by pastors, teachers and evangelists, and the many remembrancers of Him who never leaves Himself without a witness in the world - O say, say, say, we beg of you, how will you be able to stand the day of impending judgment, if it shall be found that heedless, careless and insane, amid all these invitations, you still deliberately decide to grovel in the depths of selfishness and carnality, moved by no terrors in the ominous indications of vengeance, and by no fascination in the offered mercy of God?
A Christian gentleman called in, by request, to see a dying boy, who had been dragged up in ignorance and indifference. Seeing the end was nigh at hand, he lovingly smiled down upon him, and encouragingly said, "My lad, God loves you." With a desperate effort the sufferer raised himself from his pillow, and shouted out to everybody in the house, "God loves me! God loves me! I shall die happy now!"
"Father of Jesus, love's reward!
What rapture will it be,
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee."
Beloved hearers, my last message to you tonight is this - and as we may never all meet together again on earth to remind each other of it, may God help you to remember it, in life and in death - 'God loves you! God loves you! GOOD NIGHT!'"
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Extracts from advertisements in the original.
A SIXTY-PAGE PAMPHLET CONTAINING REPORTS OF ADDRESSES AND MEETINGS DELIVERED AND CONDUCTED BY MR. SYDNEY BLACK DURING HIS TEN DAYS' EVANGELISTIC MISSION IN THE ALBERT HALL, CIRCUS STREET HALL, AND OTHER BUILDINGS IN NOTTINGHAM, - From November 30th to December 10th, 1890.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR :-"SHALL THE SAVIOUR'S PRAYER BE ANSWERED?"
That they may all be one. - Jesus.
Opinions of the Press.
"This is a vigorous plea for the union of All Christians. Its circulation will help to call attention to the question which is on the minds of thousands of them who love the Lord Jesus Christ. It is one of the burning questions of the day." - Christian Standard, U.S.A.
"This published lecture, delivered in various places in England, is a masterly statement, showing that the author thinks for himself and can speak 'right out in meeting." - Bible Index, Toronto, Canada, December, 1884.
"The prayer referred to is that of John xvii, for the Oneness of those who believe in Jesus. This tractate, well got up, is a comprehensive statement of the matter in hand, showing causes and consequents of, and remedy for, prevailing sectarianism. Perhaps in style a little too loud, but full of the fire of earnest zeal, and calculated to promote thought and influence for good." - Ecclesiastical Observer, Birmingham, October, 1884.
"WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?"
Or, JESUS PROVIDES A PERFECT SALVATION.
An Eight-page Tract, suitable for all enquirers after Eternal Life.
BY GEORGE COLLIN:-"A LETTER FROM GOD."
A Discourse delivered before a large concourse of people, in the
OPEN-AIR, EXHIBITION SQUARE, YORK,
On Lord's Day Afternoon, August 7, 1887. PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF MR. SYDNEY BLACK.
As a pleasant reminiscence of the highly successful Services held in connection with the Opening of Cromwell Road Meeting House, York.
"A SOLEMN ENQUIRY."- A FIVE MINUTES ADDRESS ON "JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH," etc.
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