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united to magnify the grace of God in her; and fondly dwelt on the unostentatious piety, and the meek and gentle spirit, which had marked her career both of effort and of suffering.
THE CLASS-MEETING IN ACCORDANCE WITH
SCRIPTURE AND REASON.* "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath donc for my soul.” (Psalm lsvi. 16.)
" Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another : and the Lord hearkpued, and heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that leared the Lord, and that thought upon His Name. And they shall be Mine, with the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare then, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” (Mal. iii. 16, 17.)
The social means of grace which exist among the WesleyanMethodists under the names of Class-meetings, Lovefeasts, and Bund-meetings, have occasioned much questioning, not to say controversy, ever since the formation of the “United Societies.” Some have represented them as unscriptural, savouring of Popery, and tending to make men hypocritical; while others have affirmed, that they are scriptural in their character, edifying in their tendency, promotive of personal piety and church prosperity, and greatly helpful, under God, to the leavening of the world's population with the evangelizing influences of Christianity. The verses of Scripture, which stand at the head of this article, bring under our notice the general subject of meetings among the servants of God, for mutual exhortation and the relation of religious experience. That gatherings were held, for these and kindred purposes, both under the OldTestament dispensation, and among the first Christians, we hope to make manifest: only premising that as the names by which such meetings were called, and the precise mode in which they were conducted, are not specified in Scripture, they are obviously of minor importance, and do not enter into the merits of the question. Names may differ, and modes vary, according to circumstances; but the nature and obligations of those spiritual exercises which God has enjoined, and which His people have practised from the beginning, remain the same from age to age.
* Twelve months ago, we had in hand two valuable articles on the Classmeeting. It seemed desirable that each of them should appear at the commencement of a year, as being likely then to secure the greater attention. Notwithstanding some coincidence, at points, with the paper which appeared in January last, the one now before the reader is an independent presentation of the snbject, –a subject which, above till others, occupies the thoughts of every Methodist who is concerned for the spiritual prosperity of his own branch of the church of Christ,-Edit.
Believing that our Class-meetings, and similar assemblies, are subtantially in harmony with Scripture precedent and precept, and that their continued maintenance in our community is of vital importance to the life of God in the souls of individuals, and the extension of the kingdom of Christ at home and abroad, we direct attention,
I. TO THE PRACTICE OF WITCH DAVID, AND TIE GODLY IN Malach's DAY, SET US AN EXAMPLE, NAMELY, TIIAT OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD MEETING TOGETHER FOR SOCIAL WORSHIP AND RELIGIOUS FELLOWSHIP,
1. This practice is ancient and scriptural. That the worship and religious fellowship of the patriarchal ages were social, is certain, because they were domestic. Each patriarch was the priest of his own family; and that their teaching was conversational, rather than sermonic, may be inferred from their not having a written revelation. For subjects of instruction they were thrown upon the incidents of their own times,—their personal experience, inspirations from on High, and the traditions received from their fathers. Surrounded by their respective family circles, they would remind their children and their children's children of the holy and happy state in which man was created,—the fall with its fatal consequences,—the promised Seed, and the prospective redemption of the race by His mysterious sufferings,—the way of approach to God by sacrifice, and the high privileges of living in a covenant relation to the Most High. Abel's youthful piety, strong faith, and martyr's death, with Cain's pride, unbelief, fratricidal hate, and ignominious banishment, would form the grounds of many a moving appeal and solemn admonition. Enoch's holy life and translation, Noah's godly fear, faithfulness, wonderful preservation, and God's covenant with him and all flesh, were doubtless themes on which patriarchal lips dwelt in successive generations. In Abraham's day the basis of religious instruction was extended ; and topics, illustrative of the character of God, -His covenant relation to His people, -the person, lineage, and work of the Redeemer,-together with the terms of acceptance with God, and the future history of the church, were introduced. Of this patriarch God said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” (Gen. xviii. 19.) And though we have not similar testimonies of others, it may be presumed, from the case of Job, that domestic worship, and religious fellowship, were kept up among those who “feared God and eschewed evil."
The first written account we have of conversational meetings on religious subjects, is found in connexion with the institution of the Passover. The passover was a national festival; yet connected with domestic and social worship. Each family had its lamb to eat, and its prescribed theme for religious discourse during the “ feast.” The children, it was presumed, would ask, “What mean ye by this service ?" And the parents were instructed to answer, by setting forth Israel's bondage in Egypt, the mission of Moses and Aaron to Pbareoh, the passing of the angel over the blood-besprinkled houses of the Israelites, the slaying of Egypt's firstborn, the crossing of the Red Sea, their journey through the wilderness, and their establishment in Canaan. Thus all Israel, every time they celebrated the passover, were divided into bands of from ten to twenty persons, worshipping God, partaking of that lamb which prefigured " Christ our Passover;" and their evening hours were spent in declaring what God had done for their fathers, that they might dwell in quiet resting places.
On various occasions Moses held private conferences with the elders of Israel, for the purpose of acquainting them with the Name and ordiDances of the Lord ; and, at other times, he took counsel with them how to secure the execution of the Divine will, avert God's wrath, and preserve the purity of His worship. The interview between Moses and his father-in-law affords a beautiful specimen of religious fellowship. " And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the band of the Egyptians, and out of the band of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them. And Jethro, Moses' fatherin-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron caine, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God.” (Exod. xviii. 5-12.) Next day, Moses having "sat to judge the people...from the morning unto the evening," a second conference ensued, at which Jethro was the instructor, and Moses the learner. "And Moses' father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for this thing is too heavy for thee.... Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee.... Provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating coveteusness,....to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge.” (Verses 13-22.) On ascertaining that the counsel given accorded with the Divine will, Moses adopted it, and it became a standing ordinance in Israel.
The secret of the Lord is with the righteous." Great as well as good thoughts are often imparted in connexion with devotional exercises : and those original ideas which permanently benefit man. kind,-such as this suggestion of Jethro's, the plan of printing by types, the first conception of Wesley's Class-meetings, and the idea of the British and Foreign Bible Society,-may well be thought to have been inspirations from on High. Moses, it would appear, had a third interview with Jethro, though under another name, at which he gave him a kind and pressing invitation to cast in his lot with the people of God. “We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. And he said unto him, I will not go ; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee." (Num. x. 29–32.)
When Job was overtaken with great calamities, three of his friends “made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him ;” (Job ii. 11 ;) and, if we except the first two chapters, and the last five, the Book may be described as a dialogue between the afflicted patriarch and his friends, on the perfections and providence of God, the character, trials, and privileges of the righteous, and the certain destruction which awaits the hypocrite and the profane. Several of the Psalms seem to have been composed for the edification of those who met for social worship; or, more probably, they were first spoken extempore at such services, and were asterwards penned for the benefit of the whole church. (See Psalms xxxiv., lvi., cxvi.) Taken as a whole, the Psalms constitute a rich and invaluable treasury of devotional sentiment and song. They exhibit all the heights and depths of godly experience, which intervene between the pangs of the penitent sinner, and the confident and exultant hopes of the dying saint. In the hands of the Holy Spirit, they impart knowledge, and inspire devotion ; excite desire after God, and enhance delight in Him ; furnish arguments to be pleaded in prayer, and thanksgivings for answers received ; suggest motives for patient waiting on God in times of trouble, and examples of heroic fortitude in tribulation ; indicate intimate acquaintance with, and high esteem for, the excellent of the earth : and, we may rest assured, they were chanted, not only by the priests in the sanctuary, but by the faithful at the family altar, and in the social circle, through the length and breadth of the land of Israel.
From Malachi we learn that the servants of God, in that degene. rate age, were in the habit of meeting together for religious fellowship. “ They spake one to another” of the majesty, perfections, providence, and promises of the God they “feared," and of the
covenant relations He sustained to them and His church. They were only a remnant, but they did not despond; they sought the society of each other, and encouraged each other in the performance of duty, and in the patient endurance of persecution. The worldly of their day were bold in the practice of sin and in the profession of unbelief, and would fain have laughed the godly to scorn; but they neither feared their foes, nor were ashamed of their cause; and God, in whom they trusted, owned and honoured them. “The Lord hearkened and heard;” He was well pleased with them and their religious practice : He kept an account of their meetings: treasured up their tears, heard and answered their prayers, and registered in the book of His remembrance their pious conversations, their good deeds, and their earnest endeavours to stem iniquity, and strengthen each other in His work. While He regarded the wicked as refuse on the face of the earth, or as fuel for His righteous indignation, He said concerning them that thus "thought upon His name," “ They sball be Mine,... in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his son that serveth him."
The interview between Elisabeth aud Mary, the mother of our Lord, and the responsive songs they uttered, afford a sublime specimen of the communion of saints; as does also the meeting which Joseph and Mary had with Simeon and Anna the prophetess in the temple. (Luke i. 39-56; ü. 25-38.) Our Saviour's own example may be adduced as evidence in this case. His immediate disciples constituted His inner circle of friendship and love; and often and again He took them apart, to a desert place, to a mountain, to Bethany, and to an upper chamber, that He might teach them to pray, instruct them in things pertaining to His kingdom, and explain to them the deep things hidden under the parables delivered to the multitude. The thirteenth and three following chapters of St. John's Gospel contain the instructions, consolations, exhortations, warnings, and predictions, which He addressed to them in connexion with the last celebration of the Passover, and the institution of His own Supper; all of which he concluded with the offering up of His intercessory prayer, and the singing of a hymn. The "holy mount” was distinguished not only by our Lord's transfiguration, the bright cloud, the voice from the "excellent glory," and the presence of Moses and Elias, but also by the conversation which took place between Him and His heavenly visitants; for "they spake of the decease He was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” If the transfiguration, with its accom. panying circumstances, was a symbolical epitome of "the kingdom of God," or the Gospel dispensation, then the conversation which took place on the subject of the Saviour's death may be regarded as a predictive type of that communion of saints, which was subse.