« PreviousContinue »
the sword; who wandered about in sheep-skins and goatskins, in deserts and mountains, in caves and dens of the earth; of whom the world was not worthy."
In the third place, a service set apart to the acquisition of religious knowledge would be very properly devoted in part to the consideration of the Evidences of Christianity, to the character of the Christian records and the principles of their interpretation, and to points of controversy.
We presume that any judicious preacher, proposing to deliver a series of discourses in either of these departments of religious inquiry, would not choose thus to occupy more than one half of each Sunday, giving the other part to meditations more spiritual and practical. But if this be true, it appears to us that it would be better at once to assign such subjects to a particular part of the day. Besides, we believe that many preachers neglect to discourse on subjects of this nature, as much as they otherwise might, and as would be desirable in fact, because there is a feeling in their minds and in the minds of their hearers, that such speculative and polemical discussions do not harmonize with the religious impression, the tender and devout spirit of solemn public worship. Nor are such topics likely to gain the requisite attention amidst services chiefly devoted to prayer and praise and spiritual meditation, We could scarcely wish that they should. Let then, we would say, a distinction be made. Since it is proper that matters of doctrine, of interpretation, and of evidence should be discussed in the pulpit, since it is reasonable that the people should demand light on these subjects from the preacher, should demand the results of those studies for which they give him an opportunity, let a time be set apart for this purpose. In the evening service let the gathering be, to the preacher; to listen to his expositions; as it were to a lecturer. This is too much the character of all attendance at church. But we would that the morning service should be an entirely different thing. We would that it should be, as we have said, a holy convocation as unto the Lord; that the mind of the congregation should be fixed upon the Supreme Being; that the question about attending church should never be the too common question, “who is to preach ?” that this should be a question hardly thought of; that it should be enough to know that the worship of God is to be celebrated in the holy place.
Evidences of Revelation.
With this view of the different services, it would be proper to treat them differently. It might be proper, for instance, to announce beforehand the subjects to be discussed in the evening service. The congregation might naturally desire to be informed on this point. But this is a practice which seems to us to let down the dignity and solemnity of an occasion, where, not information, but worship and meditation are the principal ends. We cannot bear that subjects of infinite interest, subjects pertaining to our great duties and hopes, should be matters of advertisement. Nor can we consent to it as proper, except upon very extraordinary occasions, that the name of the officiating person should be thus announced to the public. Both practices have an apparent reference, either to the interests of the congregation, or to the ambition of the preacher, or to the curiosity of the public, which ill consorts, in our mind, with the solemnities of worship.
A course of sermons, then, on the Evidences of Revelation, a course on the character of its records, that is to say, on the state of its records and on their inspiration, and a course on the principles of the much abused and dishonored science of theology, ought, we think, to be delivered in every church. The tendency of the age to seek excitement and impression is leading to the neglect of these important subjects; and many are losing sight of the reasons and grounds of the faith that is in them, at the very time when it is put to the most searching scrutiny and serious question. We do not regret that preaching is becoming more spiritual, more experimental, more practical. We do not wish to bring back the old scholastic discussions of dogmas. But the time has come when we must put the defence of Christianity, and Christianity itself, upon their true grounds; for they cannot much longer stand upon any other. And this, we repeat, is the proper business of the pulpit.
In the last place, there is a variety of other subjects which may come under the occasional notice of the pulpit, and yet which require, some of them at least, a liberty in the discussion not altogether consonant, perhaps, with a season of solemn worship
- with a season, that is to say, when worship and meditation are, or ought to be, regarded as the chief ends.
The subjects to which we now refer are such as the following ; — the moral principles of trade; the condition of society ; national duties and dangers; the use to be made of extraordinary events; and others of a like character. Clergymen are accustomed to avail themselves of the occasions which Fast days and the Thanksgiving festivals furnish, for discussing such topics. But those occasions by no means give sufficient space for them. A series of discourses, too, might be delivered on the Professions; and upon the moral responsibility of magistrates and legislators. It is high time that the pernicious distinction between public and private virtue were entirely done away; and the pulpit ought not to look on and see the sophistry, by which a bad man in private life is expected to be a very good man for the public, and keep silence. Sometimes too, ' a remarkable book which is exerting a very deleterious influence upon society, or one which is capable of yielding valuable moral lessons, might be made the subject of a discourse. We have heard of a sermon on the Imprisonment of Silvio Pellico, and of others on that remarkable and most instructive engraving of Retsch, entitled “the Game of Life.” These are good examples, and we do not mean to say that discourses like these now referred to, might not properly be preached at any time; but we think it would be better, in order that the pulpit might discharge its full duty to the public, as an expositor and interpreter of the morality of passing events and occasions, that it should have an appointed and authorised time set apart to it, for such purposes. This liberty for the pulpit, at any rate, we wish to gain, whether the particular distinction which we propose between the morning and evening service be approved or not.
To the proper utility of preaching, in fine, it appears to us necessary that it should be more circumstantial and more enlightened.
It must be more circumstantial. Men are influenced by what is passing around them. Truth indeed is the allpowerful agent that is to form the human character, but truth speaks through circumstances, through events, through nature through human feelings and their actions. He, who would interpret and enforce the truth, must take hold of the instruments which are furnished to him by the whole
Demands of the Age.
surrounding, living, and moving world. God's providence, as well as his revelation, must be the preacher's theme. It is not enough for him forever to pour moral or theological abstractions into the ears of men; he must speak to them of things around them, and with which they are daily conversant; of things which their eyes see, and their ears hear, and their hands do handle.
In other words, he must be an enlightened preacher. The age is beginning to demand this of him, and he must yield to the demand. The pulpit must rise upon the tide of liberalizing knowledge and thought, that is overspreading the world, or it must sink beneath the wave, among forgotten things. Already the eternal repetitions of abstract and barren points of theology, which the Protestant Reformation brought into fashion, are beginning to be less satisfactory; and the pulpit of every denomination is giving some tokens of the change that must pass over it. Let any one attempt now to repeat the sermons of Hopkins and Bellamy and Edwards, and able and acute as they are, more so perhaps than anything he can produce, he will find that they will not do. He will find that he must forsake the dead and turn to the living, — that he must forsake the dead things of scholastic theology, and turn to the living things of faith and fact, of experience aud practice.
The preacher of this day, we repeat, must be enlightened. He must be acquainted with men and things, with nature and the science of nature, with events and their interpretations. And he must preach accordingly. When we think of his great and noble opportunities for influencing the public mind; when we think of the effects which he might produce upon a congregation in the city or the country, but especially in the country, and when we find him still pouring out upon the ears of the people, from Sunday to Sunday the same abstractions of theology, with not half so much meaning in them, as in the cataracts of their hills or the sounding winds of their groves, we are oppressed and pained with the deficiencies of the clerical profession, and with the immense loss to the world of what it might do. Why will not the preacher make those mountain streams and winds speak to the people? Why does he not make a voice from their fields and their fountains to steal into their ear amidst their daily occupations ? Let him preach
from the books of theology if he pleases, let him not fail to preach from the Bible; but why shall he not preach from nature and life also ? Why shall he not preach as the Bible preaches? Why not, like the Psalmist, and like Jesus the great Teacher, make all nature and life to be a presence and a beauty around us, – the presence of God, the beauty of holiness and love?
Art. V. - GREENWOOD'S MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS.*
If we should call this a very pleasant book, which the family of the late Dr. Greenwood have presented to the numerous friends who will welcome such an addition to their means of acquaintance with his mind and heart, we should probably use the word that would first come to the lips of any one after its perusal. It is a very pleasant book with which to spend an hour. But it is entitled to much higher praise. It is a profitable book for any one to read, — partly because it communicates information and offers instruction, which, if not new, are conveyed in clear and apt language, but chiefly because its moral tone is of the healthiest kind. It consists, in about equal proportions, of a journal kept in England during the year 1920–21, which he passed abroad for the recovery of his health, including letters which he sent to friends at home, and of essays collected from various publications to which he was a contributor. The “ Journal” has never before been printed, and was “intended but for a few eyes beside” his * own, but it is written with that correctness and frequent beauty of style, which mark Dr. Greenwood's productions. Among the “ Essays" we recognise two or three discourses originally delivered from the pulpit, such as those on the Eternity of God, and the Religion of the Sea, one or two reviews, as of Milton's Prose Works, and other articles, like those on the Spirit of Reform and the Study of Natural History, which especially belong to the department of
The Miscellaneous Writings of F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D. Boston: Little & Brown. 1846. 12mo. pp. 393.