From The January, 1823 Issue of The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine
LETTER FROM DR. CLARKE ON THE GENERAL CHAPEL-FUND, Lately instituted among the Methodists. To the Editor of the Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine.
Among the many improvements which have been made of late in the external economy of Methodism, I consider your new mode of providing for the building of Chapels, and helping those that are in impoverished circumstances, one of the best. The former method of begging for individual Chapels, by sending persons to make Public Collections in various Circuits, was replete with evils. The Preachers employed in it were taken away from their regular labor in the Church of God, and sent over the nation on begging excursions; by which their own minds were but little profited, and the spiritual improvement of the societies in their Circuits was greatly neglected. Much time was spent to very little purpose; for little was raised in this way. I have myself known an instance of a Preacher of no mean talents and address, after having traveled through several Circuits for upwards of three months, return home with six shillings clear of his unavoidable itinerant expenses! And I have heard of others not less unproductive. -- It was then judged necessary, in addition to the Public Collections, to call at the houses of the most opulent and liberal members and friends of the Methodists' society, and solicit their aid. This also consumed much time, though more productive than the former mode. But in process of time, it became very vexatious and oppressive; for those who were known to be liberal, were repeatedly called on for contributions; and not only Methodist Preachers, but various persons of our own and other denominations, soon found out the generous man, and the messengers of the Churches were seldom from before his door. -- It is possible, though very improper, to "ride a free horse to death": a maxim of our forefathers says this should never be done. -- At length, many were wearied out, and becoming bitter in spirit, through these almost constant and irritating applications, shut up their pockets, and refused to give to any but such as were in their own Circuits.
All these exceptionable modes of raising money for Chapels were superseded by the General Chapel-Fund, instituted in 1818, and regulated by a sufficient number of wise and well-digested rules, which met at once with the approbation of all who knew them. By this prudent and enlightened ordinance, all itinerant mendicant preachings in behalf of our Chapels are put down, to the great comfort of the Preachers, and relief of our almost incessantly harassed friends; and one annual subscription and public collection, in the month of February, are substituted for the whole. The proceeds of this subscription and collection are put under the management of a Committee of prudent and discerning men, who have each year laid before them the true states of all the Chapels in the Connection, that are in embarrassed circumstances, and the grounds on which their Trustees prefer claims for relief. When all these claims are diligently considered, and the quantum of relief proportioned to the comparative necessities of the different cases, a Report is made out, published, and sent through the Connection, which has hitherto given universal satisfaction.
Though, this institution has for its immediate object the relief of Chapels under heavy debts, by assisting them to pay their interest, yet it ultimately contemplates the liquidation of the debts themselves, when the annual collection, &c., shall become sufficiently productive for that purpose: but although this collection has gradually increased, every year, since its institution, it has never yet enabled the Committee to realize any part of the second object of the plan: and indeed they could only pay a certain percentage on the claims preferred for Annual Deficiencies. At this I am surprised; and think the plan is either not sufficiently known, or not sufficiently understood. My own conviction is, that every member of the Methodist Connection should be friendly to it, and be thankful to God that it was ever instituted. The Circuits have now that full quota of preaching, of which many were too frequently deprived when the former objectionable plans were in operation. Add to this, that the shops, offices, and houses of our people in general, need no longer be infested with delegated beggars from different Circuits, who, with or without proper authority, were frequently pouring out their tales of distress and embarrassment on the ears of those who, because of their liberal character, were perpetually the first objects of attack in all those mendicant excursions. The money saved from this indiscriminate sort of distribution, they are now left at liberty to apply to cases in which both themselves and the Church of Christ are not less concerned. And it may be safely stated, that should the people who were in the habit of being so repeatedly called on, for various cases in the same year, give but one-half to the General Chapel-Fund, of what some were constrained to give to the frequent importunities of the above-mentioned description of visitants, this collection would be much more productive than it is; and should our friends and congregations contribute as they might do, the tale of chapel-embarrassment and distress would, in a short time, cease to be heard.
It may, however, be asked, "Is there any grand principle on which such Subscriptions and Collections should be raised?" Most certainly: for, if it be the will of God that the people should hear the gospel, it must be his will that they should have suitable places to hear it in: and from the time when the houses of the primitive believers ceased to be sufficiently large to contain the Church of Christ, the necessity of the case showed them, that convenient buildings should be erected for the purposes of public worship; and their love to God and man induced them cheerfully to bear the expense of such buildings.
It is possible, I grant, to multiply Chapels where the case of absolute expediency does not exist; but this folly has had its day:-- none can be now undertaken in the Methodist Connection without the approbation of the Chapel-Building Committee; who, thoroughly sensible of the evils which the Connection has already suffered by hasty exertions of zeal without knowledge, give their permission in no case where the expediency is not evident, and the means of defraying the expenses are not either already provided, or in promising progression.
Thus the Connection is guarded on every hand; the evils that have already existed cannot recur; the godly charity of helping to erect Chapels, where the extension of the work of God renders it necessary, and supporting those which have been already built for the accommodation of the numerous poorer societies who could not themselves bear the whole expense, may come into full and confident activity; and those who give in such a cause, and on such grounds, feel that they are doing a work highly acceptable in the sight of God.
Several years ago, when traveling through Ireland with the Rev. Adam Averall, and observing the state of the people, their ignorance, poverty, and distress, and the necessity there was of stretching forth the hand of charity in their behalf; he observed, "The greatest charity in behalf of this people would be to erect Chapels for them, that they might hear the pure word of God preached in them, and thus learn what is necessary for their comfort and happiness in both worlds." -- This is a great and weighty truth, as it regards the poor of that kingdom; their misery arising, principally, from their ignorance and vice; and want of proper religious instruction being the cause of the whole. But it is also a great charity to provide places of worship for the poor of this country. -- For those Circuits which cannot wholly provide for their Preachers, we have established what is called the Yearly Collection. Many are glad to hear, and are saved through that hearing, who cannot, without assistance, provide their ministers with the necessaries of life:-- thus the Yearly Collection helps to bear this burden. And the Chapel-Fund should be brought into such a State, as to be able to provide Chapels in such Districts, or to enable the people to bear the burden of those they already have. Where can there well be a greater charity than this, in reference to these poor departments of the Church of Christ? -- I might add here, that in sea-port towns, such as London, Portsmouth, Gosport, Woolwich, &c., from which troops are frequently sent out, and to which they are returned, there is the utmost need to provide Chapels, where thousands of religious soldiers and sailors (and many that are not religious) would rejoice to hear the preaching of the Methodists, had they places to assemble in. Already, in all the above places, our friends have incurred great expenses, and made themselves responsible for large sums to erect Chapels for the accommodation of those men, -- men to whom the nation is under no ordinary obligation. Some of these chapels were sinking under their own burthens [archaic for burdens -- DVM], till this blessed plan was formed. Now, they derive from it considerable annual relief; though not as yet equal to all their pressing necessities. If such places get a more than ordinary share of the proceeds from the Chapel-Fund Subscriptions and Collections, who would murmur at it, when he considers the circumstances of the men in whose behalf these Chapels were chiefly erected? When sailors are in active service, they are able, in a measure, because of their pay, to bear their own burdens; but when it is otherwise, great distress must prevail in such places, and it is the duty of every British Christian to feel for, and help them: and on the plan already so often mentioned, they can do this with comparatively little exertion and expense. Let us, therefore, endeavor not only to assist those, and such like Chapels, to pay their annual interest for borrowed money; but to raise, for this Fund, such sums as shall annually liquidate the debts on Chapels, till, in process of time, those debts be totally annihilated.
I recur, therefore, to the grand principle. It is a great charity to build Chapels for the accommodation of the poor. I scruple not to say, with some of the Primitive Fathers, "Aedificare ecclesias, latria est," "to build Churches, is an act of religious worship to God:" and it was ever considered so by the faithful, in all ages and countries, from the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness to the present day. I do not mean the building of Churches or Chapels to serve a party, -- to be monuments of pride or ostentation to the nation, like many useless pompous piles in different parts of Europe, -- or to provide a living for a man who may desire to make a trade of preaching the gospel; but the building of such as are generally erected among the Methodists, where the poor have the gospel preached to them, and the Messengers of God labor, in season and out of season, in reference alone to the salvation of the multitude.
If considerations of this kind be pressed on the attention of our friends and congregations at the ensuing and subsequent applications to them for aid, I am satisfied that we shall have such an increase as shall enable the Chapel-Fund-Committee to effect all the purposes of this most excellent and benevolent institution. The burden being thus removed from the minds of Preachers and People, the former will go through their labor with delight, and the latter wait upon the Lord without distraction. The wails of Zion shall be salvation, and her gates praise; Jerusalem shall be in prosperity, and every where peace upon Israel.
Hoping that these observations will be received by the numerous readers of your useful Magazine, in the same spirit and concern with which they are written, I am, Rev. and dear Sir, yours, truly,
Adam Clarke. Millbrook, Nov. 30th, 1822
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