Brethren Archive

Life In Ireland.

by G.F. Trench

A Prayer-Meeting Address in Dublin.
IT is, perhaps, hardly necessary to tell in a meeting in Dublin what the state of lawlessness is at present prevailing in country districts; and yet, as it is sought to stir up earnest prayer in all who believe in its efficacy, it may be well to state a few facts that have come under my own observation.
There is a gentleman in the South, who farms largely, now suffering most terrible persecution for the exercise of his unquestioned right, as a citizen of this empire, to hire land offered by its owner.  When his meadows were being saved, the police stood round the labourers to protect them from violence.  In his dairy, the servants made butter under the same conditions. In the village where he was brought up, he cannot buy the necessaries of life.  None will sell to him.  The other day, his child and its nurse were stopped by boycotters, and the perambulator searched lest any food should be concealed in it.  In Limerick and Cork, the shops whence he had sought and obtained supplies have been warned to refuse him and have done so.
He may be seen going through his land armed with a repeating rifle, as if he lived in Central Africa, exposed to the assaults of wild men or wild beasts.  His hay has been burned in large quantities, and his daughter publicly charged with the crime by his implacable enemies.  And all this to a man hitherto popular with his neighbours, for no offence whatever, but taking a farm on which the previous tenant had failed.
A few weeks ago, travelling by train, I met a Christian lady and her daughter hurrying out of the country, after a second attack on their dwelling.  The first time it was blown up by dynamite; the second time a fusilade was continued round the house about midnight for an hour and a half, to the terror and distress of all who remained indoors, while her husband and the police sought to clear the woods of their murderous assailants.
In our own village, a national school-teacher incurred, without cause, the ill-will of his neighbours.  The school was wrecked, the teacher and the parish priest driven away by violence when they sought to enter it.  The children, set on by their parents, were active, and remain so to this day, in boycotting the teacher and the school.  Several cases have occurred elsewhere of school children boycotting their fellows, whose parents had offended some “unwritten law’’ of the ‘‘National League,” which de facto governs Ireland.  If the youth of our land are thus early trained in the passive and active arts of lawlessness, I leave you to judge what the future is likely to develop.
This being the condition of social disease and disintegration at which we have arrived, it becomes us to look to our own responsibilities as Christians.  For certain it is, that God, as the Governor of the world, and appointing rulers as His ministers for the good of His people in every nation, rules it in reference to them.  When, therefore, calamities occur, we are bound to ask ourselves, what is God’s controversy with us?  Will you then set up a court of inquiry, my follow-Christians, and investigate this question, and by honest and faithful self-examination and self-judgment seek to discover your faults, with holy resolution to amend? Nothing can be more gratifying to me than the unity displayed in these meetings, for surely we must all confess, in the presence of a distracted society, that division among Christians is our most prominent sin.  I own to it myself, to the want of love and of fellowship with others not in all things of my way of thinking.  And it is high time that we drop all other minor links and cling to the grand and only true bond of unity, life in and love for Christ Jesus the Lord.
Again, when our properties and possessions are affected, does it not become us to ask ourselves how far we have acted faithfully as the stewards of God in these things?  Has there been no self-indulgence, no luxurious living, no waste?  I have been for years persuaded of the soundness of the principle of systematic giving—giving in proportion to our means—and would heartily recommend all to set apart a regular proportion, ‘‘as the Lord shall prosper you,” to be laid up for, or spent in His service.  By all means, spend as much more as you like, but do not spend less than the fraction of your income which calmly and honestly, in prayer and grateful love, you decide before God that you ought to give.
Again, let us ask ourselves: Are we in all things surrendered to Him who has redeemed us to be His own, enjoying His great salvation to begin with, but not stopping there, going on to take His yoke, offering our bodies, talents, possessions, all and everything we are and have, a ‘‘living sacrifice” on His altar?  Is this our state?  Be honest, I beseech you, Christians of Ireland, and now afresh, let us begin to consecrate ourselves in the power of the Holy Ghost to our Master’s service.
Let us turn to Nehemiah i. The national distress may have been greater than ours, but the principles of this man’s action must be a true guide to us.  When he heard of the affliction of his brethren, what did he?  He ‘‘sat down’’ (ver. 4)—attitude of calm and earnest reflection.  It was not political fretting, not hurrying to and fro amongst men.  He sought God in secret, and ‘‘wept, and mourned, and fasted, and prayed.’’  Yes! he wept, not only in sympathy for others’ sorrow, but in broken-hearted confession of his own and his people’s sins.  He prayed also, in the beautiful words which I ask you to listen to and bending your heads to make them your own prayer now: ‘‘O Lord! I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant, and to the prayer of Thy servants, who desire to fear Thy name; and prosper, we pray Thee, Thy servants this day, and grant us mercy in the sight of our rulers.’’
But he did not only pray; he worked.  And I want you to notice the three methods or lines on which he worked.  He employed three implements or weapons which will indicate these—the Sword, the Trowel, and the Trumpet.  Yes, he used the sword.  That points in our case to the power of the civil ruler, who ‘‘beareth not the sword in vain’’ (Rom. xiii. 4).  To some it may appear that in a Christian dispensation, we travel outside the path of faith when we look to or depend upon the ‘‘powers that be,” wielding the sword of physical punishment.  But this chapter (Rom. xiii.) is fatal to any such theory.  The powers ordained of God are as truly His ministers in civil affairs as Paul who taught this was his minister in spiritual.
And that not merely for the world’s sake, as though God should say, ‘‘Let the world trust its magistrates, but you Christians, look to Me;’’ but ‘‘He is the minister of God to thee for good” (ver. 4).  It is for the Church’s sake, where it is found, and for it especially, that rulers are ordained of God.
Let us bless God for this His care and love!  It is Satan’s work, to cause disorders and troubles and wars; it is God’s to put them down. We work with God, under God, and against Satan, when we work for social order, strong government and peace.  It will be noticed how, with an iteration unusual in the Scriptures of St. Paul; government is six times over in as many verses of Rom. xiii. attributed directly to God as its source.  With Paul, moreover, this was no mere theory, it guided his actions on three important occasions, besides others less notable:—
(1) In Acts xxi. 39, when exposed like ourselves on the one hand to the ‘‘violence of the people,’’ and on the other to the incompetence of the government, he asserted his citizenship in its earthly character, as a Jew of Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city, and at once secured a hearing from his assailants.  And shall we, because we are citizens of Heaven in a spiritual sense, hesitate a moment, in an emergency like the present, to assert that we are also in a temporal sense, “citizens of no mean empire”, and demand of God’s ministers, to that end ordained, the right of peaceful living?
(2) When the powers themselves, carried away by popular clamour and violating their Divine commission, were about to inflict penalties instead of praise on one who did well, Paul again asserted his rights as a citizen, and boldly reminded the rulers of the law which they were bound to serve.  “Is it lawful,’’ said he (Acts xxii. 25), ‘‘for you to scourge a Roman, uncondemned?’’  And afterwards, when still he failed to secure adequate protection from the inferior officers of the law, he appealed directly to Caesar, as the chief depository of God’s commission of the peace.
(3) And yet again, when it came to Paul’s knowledge that a conspiracy or league had been formed to inflict injury, violence, or death upon himself, he took measures to inform the government of the day of its existence, with a view to its defeat.  And, whatever may be the effect of a like information conveyed in the present hour, (and I have spent part of this morning with others in such work), in Paul’s case, a heathen ruler made instant and ample provision for the protection of God’s servant.
I ask your attention to this question: If Paul, as a preacher of the Gospel, engaged in that work, and as a disciple and follower of the rejected and crucified Jesus, who himself aspired to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, could consistently use every available means to stir up the government for his protection in the pursuit of that heavenly calling, would we be wise to affect a higher spirituality than he, and sit idly by, when not merely the right to preach Christ is assailed, but the ordinary right of citizens to lead a quiet and peaceable life in the land of our birth?  For my own part, I cannot accept this theory, or adopt this course.
Now observe that Nehemiah did not wield the sword; he and his servants wore it, ready to use it, but no blood was shed.  If our rulers could bring themselves even to take the attitude of strength, neither in lawlessness nor law, need blood be shed.  It is sheathing the sword of government that tempts the assassin and brings guilt upon a nation.
But Nehemiah also used the trowel.  This points to Gospel work, because the builders were reviving the stones—figures of those who believe—out of the heaps of rubbish, to raise the wall of the holy city.  Present troubles arise to a large extent from the breakdown of moral principle in the land.  ‘‘Truth is fallen in the streets, and he that departeth from evil, making himself a prey.’’  The teachers of religion are too often the leaders of conspiracy to repudiate debt.  Perjury has become so prevalent, that in one diocese, at least, the rules ‘'reserving” absolution for this sin have been relaxed, so that the parish priest may now confer it.
But if the Bible had been in circulation amongst the people, can it be conceived that the present lawlessness could exist?  Surely not. Our fervent prayers should, therefore, be that soon, very soon, God may open the door for His Gospel to spread far and wide through the land.  Let us not pray under the relaxation of past experience, but in the energy of expectant faith.  It will come suddenly, friends. Suddenly, as in Italy, the people will be found willing to hear you and to read your Book.  Only expect it, and keep working, and watching, and praying.
There is money lodged in the bank, provided by a lady, for a Bible-carriage for the South and West, and faithful men are only waiting for the workers, the guidance and the opportunity to start it.  And when it goes, not a stone will strike it, nor a hair of the preacher’s head be hurt.  Meantime, be at work where you can.  Busy your heart and brain in the service of Christ, and the saving of souls, and you will find it a blessed antidote for care and fear. 
But Nehemiah also used the trumpet to call together the builders scattered far, one from the other on the wall.  And so must we.  The circular convening this meeting was a sort of trumpet-call to prayer.  When the wolf enters the sheep-field, in an instant the flock is gathered together.  It is their instinct.  Let it be ours in the time of public danger to come often together, each set of us in our own districts, and pray as one man for God’s favour and blessing on the people, on our labour, and on the rulers of this kingdom.
One concluding word on the attitude of mind befitting the Christian in this crisis.  Following the example of Nehemiah, we shall begin by self-judgment, honest and searching, as I have already urged.  Then will follow reform in the case of every discovered fault.  This will give efficacy to prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And if, notwithstanding all, we have to suffer loss, let us take it cheerfully.  Our portion, our inheritance, our substance, is not here, not accessible to rapacious hands.  Meantime, let us fear nothing.  Eschew fear as you eschew care or sin.  Remember Nehemiah’s words when Shemaiah sought to make him afraid: “Should such a man as I flee?’’  ‘‘I will not go in.”  In Christians, rather let the world find courage when all others are dismayed.  ‘‘When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, “There is lifting up’’ (Job xxii.).  Who should be so strong, so courageous, so patient, or so peaceful as the man who trusts in God! 
George F. Trench.
“The Christian” 1886 


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