Our friend Churchill was a great man for religious meetings. As he shoved back from our tea-table he said, “I must be off to church.”
Then he yawned as though he expected to have a dull time, and asked me why it was that religious meetings were often so very insipid and that many people went to them merely as a matter of duty. Without waiting for me to give my opinion, he said he thought that there was a sombre hue given to such meetings that was killing and in a sort of soliloquy continued:
There is one thing Satan does well. He is good at stating the discouraging side. He knows how to fish for obstacles, and every time brings up his net full. Do not let us help him in his work. If you have anything to say in prayer-meeting that is disheartening, may you forget your speech! Tell us something on the bright side.
I know a Christian man who did something outrageously wrong. Some one said to me: “Why do you not expose him?” I replied: “That is the devil’s work and it will be thoroughly done. If there is anything good about him, we would rather speak of that.”
Give us no sermons or newspaper articles that are depressing. We know all that before you start; amid the greatest disheartenments there are hopeful things that may be said. While the Mediterranean corn-ship was going to smash, Paul told the crew to “Be of good cheer.” We like apple trees because, though they are not handsome, they have bright blossoms and good fruit, but we despise weeping willows because they never do anything but cry.
On a dark day do not go around closing the window-shutters. The world is dark enough without your making it more so. Is there anybody in the room who has a match? Please then strike it. There is only one kind of champagne that we temperance folks can take, and that is encouraging remark. It is a stimulus, and what makes it better than all other kinds of champagne is it leaves no headache.
I said to him, I think religious meetings have been improved in the last few years. One of the grandest results of the Fulton street prayer-meeting is the fact that all the devotional services of the country have been revolutionized. The tap of the bell of that historical prayer-meeting has shortened the prayers and exhortations of the church universal.
But since it has become the custom to throw open the meetings for remark and exhortation, there has been a jubilee among the religious bores who wander around pestering the churches. We have two or three outsiders who come about once in six weeks into our prayer-meeting; and if they can get a chance to speak, they damage all the interest. They talk long and loud in proportion as they have nothing to say. They empty on us several bushels of “ohs” and “ahs.” But they seldom get a chance, for we never throw the meeting open when we see they are there. We make such a close hedge of hymns and prayers that they cannot break into the garden.