Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

The necessity for such an institution need not be argued. Fearful as has been the wreck of humanity since the birth of time, its desolations would have been immeasurably worse but for the benign and potent influences of truth imparted from on high. No less conspicuous is the beneficence of God to our mental and moral weakness, in the appointment of human agencies as the medium for the communication of the Divine will. An angelic ministry would not only have affrighted us by its supernal splendour, but would also have necessarily been inaccessible to human sympathies; much less could sinful man have dared direct intercourse with the immaculate purity of a holy God. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might be (seen to be] of God.” The Divine commission, although to the Jew it became a stumblingblock, and to the Greek foolishness, is yet, to them who believe, made the power and wisdom of God, to the salvation of the soul. Ignorance and bigotry have done much to hinder the progress of the Gospel, and the influence of its ministry; yet the world at large has been greatly indebted to its benign influence for all that it has attained of social and moral advancement, not to refer to the peace and blessedness conferred by the hopes which are full of immortality. In all Christian lands the preaching of the Gospel is recognised as one of the greatest agencies employed by Divine wisdom for the advancement of the human race in virtue, religion, and civilization. The pulpit is one of the powers of modern society-known and admitted to be such.

Yet Christianity has not the supreme control, even in lands called Christian; nor is the ministry as powerful and efficient an agent as we should be led to expect it would be, from its Divine sanctions, its adaptation to human wants, and its practical recognition as a leading power in modern society. It may not be inopportune to inquire, briefly, into the causes which have tended to produce this state of things, and to ask how far the great characteristics of Apostolic preaching may yet be said to obtain in our own times.

It will not be denied that, in a popular sense, even the orthodox Christian ministry has, to a certain extent, received an impress from the predominant moral aspect of society at various epochs. After a lapse of more than eighteen centuries, it might well excite surprise that the primitive purity and integrity of the Gospel ministry should be found still to exist at all, were it not admitted that its dispensation has been sustained by a supernatural agency. When its Divine Author “ascended up on high, He gave some, apostles ; some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” In 80 far, therefore, as any who have assumed the functions of the sacred office, may have departed from the simplicity and purity of the primitive Church, the pulpit has been shorn of its spiritual power. and efficiency. It has been well observed, that had all who professed to be Paul's successors in the ministry, been anointed for their work as was this great apostle, the world would have been evangelized centuries ago. His eminent devotedness, zeal, and successes have never been surpassed : yet his splendid triumphs were less traceable to his extraordinary commission, or his endowment of supernatural gifts, than to his deep appreciation of the claims of his high vocation. It is true he was invested with immediate and plenary authority by the Saviour himself: but he was commissioned to preach the same Gospel that has descended to us; and, excepting the miraculous powers which sometimes accompanied his ministry, we have the same facilities of giving it a lodgment in the heart. The intense emotion, burning zeal, and devoted

piety of the apostle, have, it is to be feared, since yielded to the baneful influence of the world, while the objects of sense have obtained the mastery over those of faith. The invincible energy with which he announced the momentous truths he was appointed to proclaim, quickened and alarmed the dormant consciences, and subjugated the hearts of his hearers. His utterances were those of a man deeply conscious of the reality of the solemn truths he enforced, and they irresistibly carried conviction. Were the pulpit of the present day invested with the same moral power, results resembling those which attended his ministry would again return to bless the Church and the world.

A vitiated taste, which, in our time, prefers something else rather than the pure Gospel of the blessed God, has, in too many instances, superinduced a false standard for preaching, in the display of human learning as an intellectual entertainment; the multitude being more attracted by the ornateness of the preacher's rhetoric, the refined melody of the choir, and the elegant decorations of the temple, than by a desire to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." In fine, it is the absence of that realizing faith and deep spirituality which characterized the worshipping assemblies of apostolic times, that has produced such prevailing moral apathy, sterility, and decay in the Christian Church; nor until she becomes invested with these graces and gifts of the Divine Spirit, may we hope to witness a recurrence of her early triumphs. The claims of true discipleship imperatively demand this, both on the part of clergy and laity: the standard of personal piety- the total consecration of heart and life to the cause of human redemption, are the great pre-requisites for the fulfilment of the sublime and wondrous predictions of Holy Writ. If St. Paul “ceased not day and night, by the space of three years, to warn every one, with tears," why should it be deemed less incumbent upon his successors to yield like devotion to their sacred and solemn trusts?

The great fundamental principles of the Christian faith formed the constant theme of the primitive ministry; these doctrines were expounded with remarkable simplicity and urged with fervency and zeal: and yet the preaching of the great apostle at Athens presents a spectacle of moral grandeur unequalled by anything of the kind in subsequent times. Invested as he was with the high authority of his Divine Master, he stands before the collective wisdom and learning of the polished Greeks as the avowed and accredited ambassador of Heaven, to declare, with all the force of truth, its messages of grace to a lost world. Here, indeed, was eminently demonstrated the truth, that "the world by wisdom knew not God;" and that the mightiest achievements of reason failed utterly to solve the great problem of human destiny; and that without a special revelation from God, man never could have become acquainted with the sublime mysteries connected with his present and eternal happiness. In his second letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul exhibits to us the essential elements of the Gospel ministry, in the energetic and pungent appeals which he urges upon the attention of his brethren ; and the sublime teachings of the Divine “ Author and Finisher of our faith,” also evince the like attributes. No ministry, therefore, can possibly become really effective and salutary, whatever may be its intellectual accompaniments, which is found to be deficient in deep spirituality, earnestness, and faith.

That the embassy with which the Christian minister is charged is one of difficulty, is undeniable, for it has to contend with the moral forces constantly in operation in the human heart against the progress of truth, and its claims; yet the sublimity and grandeur of his message may well be supposed to expand his heart, and elevate his mental and moral powers, while his utterances would derive inspiration from Him

“Who touched Isaiah's hallowed lips with fire."

The grand elemental topics of Holy Writ can never become trite or common-place; there are no themes so soul-stirring and susceptible of magnificent illustration, for the resources of the universe are as much at the command of the expositor of Divine truth, as of the poet and philosopher. Indeed, the world naturally looks for an elevation of character-religious, moral and intellectual, in those who espouse the duties of the Christian ministry, somewhat commensurate with its claims; and especially is this true in an age when every department of human lore is constantly receiving new accessions to its stores. None in the present day will have the temerity to avow that “ignorance is the mother of devotion;" yet there are, it is to be feared, those who practically endorse the ignoble sentiment. - If God has no need of our learning," says Dr. South, "he can have still less occasion for our ignorance.” Admitting that the doctrines of the Divine revelation derive their saving efficiency from the Holy Spirit, it by no means follows as a necessary sequence, that the exponents of that revelation should be men of the meanest capacity, and the lowest in the scale of intellectual endowments. Such an idea shocks our sense of the fitness of things, and at once contravenes the universal rule of the Supreme Being, who governs the universe by a harmonious system of laws. A contrary opinion presupposes that the bestowment of superior mental power has been conferred without a purpose or design, and that its cultivation and use are consequently an infringement of a constituent moral law. While, therefore, we do not deny that occasionally the feeblest human instrumentality has been rendered subservient to the interests of religion, we cannot but regret that the admission of the fact has been made the occasion of abuse, in supposing that the pastoral office could be benefitted or even sustained, by the incompetence and indolence of illiterate and disqualified persons. With such it is not of the want of words that we have to complain, but their redundancy; and were they but fitly chosen, and used simply as the appropriate vehicles of thought, we should not have to record our protest against the inflictions of some garrulous occupants of the pulpit, who

“ Talk much, yet say nothing, for an hour;
While text and truth they labour to display,
Till both are quite interpreted away."

Such superficial orators, like rivulets, are often rapid and noisy in proportion to their shallowness,-a great command of words being no safe criterion of a fertility of ideas. We do not pretend to prescribe an exact rule in this particular, since, among persons composing our religious assemblies, a great variety of mental attainment must necessarily prevail; all we plead for is, that the standard of our pulpit addresses should not be placed below the average capacity of the audience.

Indolence in the discharge of ministerial duties is utterly inexcusable; since even the posts of human preferment and trust are found to challenge the most devoted efforts : and shall the claims of the sacred office, which has no equal in the universe of human pursuits as to its importance, sublimity, and solemn responsibilities, be deemed unworthy of our highest activity and our closest study? “God is not the patron of darkness," says a modern writer," he has none of it in his own nature; and near his altars there should be perpetual light." An intelligent and enlightened ministry is essential to the progress of intelligent piety in a religious society. A minister of Christ is. expressed emphatically by the metaphor of a star; his character and his teachings, therefore, should be luminous and instructive; he should stimulate to noble aims and high endeavours in the Chris: tian course, while he should also

“ Remove each doubt, reprove each dull delay,

Allure to brighter worlds, and lead the way."

The genius and habits of our people especially demand, what the Rev. John Angell James designates in the admirable work, (the perusal of which has suggested the foregoing remarks,) An Earnest Ministry,--a ministry that is eminently spiritual and practical,for the popular ear can only be gained by an earnest speaker. Dr. Condit, in his introduction to this deeply interesting volume, which we commend to the perusal of all our clerical brethren, thus writes :

“ The quality of the ministry to which allusion has been made, would naturally tend to give it a more Scriptural character. And what improvement is more desirable than a richer infusion into the discourses of the pulpit of the pure word of God ? Not only make the text penetrate the sermon, but let other parts of the Scriptures be made to gather around it, to shed light upon it, and

receive light from it. Occasional Àmerican hearers of some ministers in England and Scotland have marked this characteristic with great pleasure. If it should diminish the brilliancy of the pulpit, it would add to its richness. Fewer orations will be delivered, but many better sermons. A prevalent unhealthy taste may not be so well satisfied for a time, but a better taste will soon be formed. It will furnish the best opportunity for awakening emotion and affecting the conscience, as well as imparting instruction. Thus obtaining vivid impressions of truth, the preacher will possess one element of true earnestness in the pulpit; for he will speak not only with all the authority of trath, but with a soul deeply imbued with the spirit of it. Then he will have a holy unction, and will give forth both light and heat. A spiritual, practical, Scriptural, as well as learned ministry will be earnest; and that is the ministry God will bless for the enlightenment and salvation of our country.”

[graphic]

In this stirring age, when new developments in all departments of science are constantly arresting attention, the claims of an educated and efficient ministry are still more imperatively demanded, in order to secure and retain over the popular mind a commanding influence. Instead, therefore, of adhering to a set, stereotyped vocabulary, into which many of our pulpit addresses are resolved, the preacher should seek to enlist the sympathies of his audience by imparting to his discourses all the variety of interest and illus

« PredošláPokračovať »