A Plea for Audacity

Transcription of Article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by R.N. Wycherley

For, not against, audacity. I am aware that we usually take the opposition side in discussing this question. We cannot see any good in audacity. We profess very much to dislike it. We say that it savours too much of the presumptuous. And so we classify it with the baser passions and raise our voice in condemnation.

But is this attitude always wise? Is audacity really such a contemptible thing? On the other hand, I am inclined to believe that it has a distinct mission to fulfil, a creditable part to play, that, if rightly controlled and directed, it is capable of rendering immense service to the common good. At any rate, men who have allowed this disposition to inspire their action, are responsible for some of the most heroic deeds recorded on the pages of history. The harm lies not in its use, but in its abuse.

I think that audacity can be engaged to the great benefit of the Church. Of course, I speak not of that vulgar, boastful display, which is all too common, but of the courageous, intrepid zeal which laughs at impossibilities. It seems to me that this is the very thing we need at the present time. We have our organisations, complex and orderly. The weapons of our warfare are of the most approved kind and ready to hand. Moreover, we are confronted by a great host of sanctified people, willing to be used for any good. The only thing wanting to complete the equipment is the presence of an aggressive and fearless spirit, which will energise this host and cause every unit to become valiant in the fight.

We have too much hesitation in our ranks. We see the work which ought to be undertaken; we are conscious that many voices call us to stretch forth the curtains of our habitation. But we fear to take the risks; we hesitate to venture upon such a daring speculation. We say that our financial resources will not allow us, that already they are strained to the utmost. And so the voices remain unanswered. Our opportunity for advance passes, and we are left, not just where we stood previously, but in a weaker position, due to our irresolution. “Fear makes men look aside, and so their footing miss.” The Church which fears to assume responsibility, which thinks to conserve its own ease at the expense of the claims of humanity, is doomed. The age has no room for it.

Where hesitation is not pronounced, we seem to be suffering from over-caution. Now caution is very good. Cautious men are an acquisition to any society. They exert the balancing influences. Whereas others would dash along, heedless of results, and sometimes involve themselves and their Church in heavy liabilities, these keep their hands on the reins; they consider questions in their entirety, point out the dangers, and show the reasons for continual watchfulness. But caution, carried to extremes, becomes an evil. Over-caution keeps idle the most perfected organisations, refuses to allow swords to be unsheathed and reduces a strong and united host to shameful impotency. Some of our churches are the proof of this. For years they have lived in the same narrow circle and never made any serious effort to grapple with the great wrongs that afflict mankind. These churches have taken no risks, which may be commendable from the commercial standpoint, but their inactivity has been at the expense of immortal souls, which surely must be counted as tragic.

The call of the present is for resolute action, fearless assault, heroic venture. People have no patience with any church which is always vacillating in matters of duty or shows more anxiety to maintain its own easy circumstances than to lend a hand in rescuing the perishing. We need more dash, more boldness, an intrepidity amounting to the audacious.

The fathers of Primitive Methodism were men of this stamina. At the commencement of their work, they were confronted by a condition of things which would have filled with despair less confident men. But they were ablaze with the love of God, and this, in turn, set aglow in them a great compassion for their fellowmen. They could not remain inactive. In spite of personal deficiencies and powerful interests arrayed against them, they ventured upon the most tremendous tasks – and always conquered. Their zeal, their courage, their audacity surmounted every obstacle and crowned their work with abundant success.

Fancy William Clowes walking from Tunstall to Hull for the express purpose of subduing to the Cross of Christ the vast population of that busy seaport – one man against the thousands! Fancy P. Sugden and W. Watson alighting upon the streets of London, with never a shilling with which to provide themselves with food, to raise the standard of a present salvation among the people of the metropolis – two men against the tens of thousands! Think of John Ride and his companion kneeling upon the snow-clad Downs of Berks and imploring God that the whole county might be won for Christ, and of the deep significance of the younger man’s exclamation, “Yonder country’s ours! Yonder country’s ours! And we will have it.” Think of a Circuit, with only a few shillings in hand, making itself responsible for the mission to London, and another Circuit, whose balance amounted to sixpence, agreeing to call out an additional minister! And most wonderful of all, imagine an infant and struggling church saddling itself with the expense of missions not only to Scotland and Ireland, but also to Canada and the Antipodes! The history of Primitive Methodism teems with illustrations of sanctified audacity. Our fathers were imbued with its fearless daring. And this is exactly the kind of spirit we require for the works of to-day. We shall do well to go back to the springs and renew our flagging energies with those magic waters, to link hands with the heroes of the past and feel the thrill of that unrestrained passion which scorned difficulties and was never more wonderful than when it constrained humble men to attempt what seemed to be impossible.

I plead for more of this audacity in Circuit enterprise. The trouble of many circuits is that they have fallen into a rut and seem well satisfied to abide by the consequences. Officials know that they ought to be doing something. They can see the work languishing and congregations falling away. They realise that the social life of the people is ever on the march and throbs with new aspirations, but they refuse to stir. What did for their predecessors is good enough for them. And not content with their own inactivity, they ridicule others who advocate a more aggressive policy. Then there is the question of fresh spheres. Almost every large town has its new and populous suburbs. Street after street has sprung up with amazing rapidity, and opportunities for Church extension have consequently become legion. But of these opportunities how few we have seized. Even allowing for the splendid work initiated by the Church Extension Fund, how little has been accomplished as compared with what might have been. Leaders and people have sought to justify their conduct on the ground that they were already too heavily burdened. But the real explanation is the lack of courage. Let the leaders brace themselves for daring service, let them sound the call to the rank and file, let them determine that nothing shall daunt their zeal and turn them away from scaling the heights, let them show audacity in the service of the church, and a great transformation will soon be effected. This is all we need – dash, initiative, courage. Given more of this, and weak churches will rise into strength and become the centre of feverish activities, and opportunities for extension will not so readily be ignored.

I plead for audacity even in the calling out of ministers. In dealing with this question we often approach perilously near to the cowardly. A Quarterly meeting is convinced that its circuit requires an additional minter, but fears the expense. It will mean extra stipend, contributions to the Furnishing Fund, and at the end of probation the responsibility of a second approved man. But one member of the Board, more canny than the rest, points out that, if they do agree to take a probationer it need not follow that in four years they must redeem their pledge. They can apply for relief and, if they make their case sufficiently strong, doubtless obtain it. This is the counsel of Faintheart. It dooms to failure a step which ought to lead any circuit to enlarged usefulness. No one can be surprised that, at the end of the four years, this circuit is really unable to carry its pledge and finds itself upon the lists of applicants for relief. And yet what a serious hindrance to the wider interests of our church is this system of relief. If circuits honoured their pledges, our staff of ministerial agents would increase more quickly and that surely would lead to a corresponding improvement in the work generally. I believe that the policy of wholesale relief is wrong. I am sure that the spirit which encourages it is most pernicious. But the fault is with the circuits. If they would only be more daring, and resolve that, in due course, their pledge shall be honoured, the very resolution would make for success. Courage always refuses to admit the possibility of failure.

And I enter the plea so far as the larger responsibilities of the Church are concerned. Think for a moment. Wales is a standing rebuke to us. Ireland is our shame. Until recently even Scotland had few charms. Why? Because in dealing with these respective spheres of the Homeland we have been so vacillating. We have lost touch with courage. During the last ten years, the churches of Scotland have rid themselves of the old hesitating policy and showed a dash and resource of the most wonderful kind. With what result? To-day our Scottish Churches are enjoying abundant prosperity, and the work, as a whole, was never more promising. Is it too much to believe that the same spirit, energising the work in other parts, would bring about similar success? Let it be tried in Wales and Ireland, let it determine our policies and schemes in the various centres of the African mission field, and I am convinced that we shall be surprised at what our ears hear and our eyes behold.

I plead, then, for more dash, intrepidity, even audacity! We have suffered enough through hesitation. Our losses in consequence of over-caution are too numerous to tabulate. The call is to go forward, to seize the opportunities that press around us, to venture upon courageous tasks; never to fear or to ask the reason why, but to press on until victory is secured. Let that spirit possess us and vitalize our work, and the heritage of the past shall be as a small thing when compared with the glorious realizations which shall be our reward.

“Are you in earnest! Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated;
Begin – and the work will be completed.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908/605

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