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DIGNITY AND IMPORTANCE OF THE PREACHER'S WORK.
The remark has been often made, that a scholar of but moderate powers can be more certain of a livelihood in the profession of divinity, than in that of law or physic. It has been hence inferred that the clerical profession makes a less imperative demand than the others upon the intellectual and moral strength. An impression has gone abroad that it gives no adequate scope to the higher capacities of mind. One of the most eminent politicians of New England was in his earlier days one of our most promising clergymen ; but he abandoned his sacred vocation because he deemed its sphere of activity too low and small. There is reason to fear that some candidates for the preacher's office undervalue its inherent dignity, and hope to wear its titles without any strong impulse after excellence, or any severities of mental toil. And perhaps there are some incumbents of the office, who rest contented with the routine of their common duties, and never feel that the kingdom of sacred as well as secular truth is to suffer violence, and the violent are to take it by force. But no minister can live in the healthful discharge of his duty, without feeling the need of his unceasing movement upward, nor will he train his intellect to its becoming assiduities without a high idea of his office. What constitutes a call to the Christian ministry; what kind of mental discipline should the pastor adopt; what, how, how often should he preach; questions such as these can be most sitly answered by him who has the deepest reverence for the pulpit. “The moment we permit ourselves," says Robert Hall, “ to think lightly of the Christian ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains. For no man ever excelled in a profession to which he did not feel an attachment bordering on enthusiasm ; though what in other professions is enthusiasm, is in ours the dictate of sobriety and truth.” The design of the present article is to exhibit several views of the dignity and importance of the preacher's work; not so much of the ministerial office in general, as of that branch of it which consists in the . ministration of the word, and especially from the pulpit.
With this design. it may be well to glance at the nature of the themes which the minister is to study and discuss. The character of his office receives its hue from the character of the subjects that he is to master. All truths are important; yet there is a gradation among them, and one rises above another like the stones of the pyramid. Though it is neither scholar-like nor Christian to depreciate any of the sciences, there is yet no harm in saying that the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. Entomology is not an idle study; for the minutest insect is an illustration of the greatness of God's care and the cunning of his workmanship. But we commonly feel that we have made some advance, when we come to mineralogy and geology, and inspect those monuments of Jehovah's love and strength that are curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. And certainly we are rising higher still, when we expatiate on the truths with which astronomy expands and ennobles the soul. As the intellect is of more value than a whole system of worlds, we owe a profounder homage to the science of intellect than to that of all matter; yet even this is subordinate to its sister science, that of the heart; of the affections, the will. Man's moral nature is nobler than his mental, as the architrave is lifted up above the pedestal. For his moral nature all his other powers were made; they are the frame-work for this; his knowledge of them was meant to be subservient to his knowledge of duty and moral retribution. But from the mind and heart of man we can make an ascent to the mind and heart of an angel ; and higher still to that incomprehensible Spirit, our first idea of whom is a specimen of sublimity. Now the preacher of the gospel should go up all the steps of science; nothing of truth comes amiss to him; every thing is of use. In the language of an acute divine," he must know something of everything, though he can know every thing of nothing.” It may be said, however, that his appropriate work begins with the philosophy of the human intellect. As a man, as a scholar, as a candidate for a theologian, he must indeed explore the arcana of the inineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms; but as a Chris
tian preacher he must coinmence his studies with an inquiry into the nature of the mental instruments which he uses; the mental laws to which he is to make constant appeal from the pulpit; the way to instruct, to convince, to enchain attention, to keep permanent hold of the memory. He must search out the laws of mind as they are developed in the structure of language; and must learn to interpret the Bible from the principles of mental suggestion or association. That philosophy, then, which transcends the knowledge of planets and suns is the elementary branch of the preacher's great science. It affords him his foundation-stones, which are none the less useful because they lie covered and out of sight.
But he must not stay too long upon the basis. His higher theme is man's moral constitution. He must learn how to touch the secret springs of the heart; how to evoke that volition which will be followed by an eternity of reward; how to check the indulgence of that feeling which brings in its train an eternity of punishment. The exalted and impressive designation of his office is," the care of souls." Immortality, free agency, interminable joy or pain, such are the themes of his prolonged attention. Nor does he confine himself to this province of human nature. He is to discuss the doctrine of those superior intelligences who come from above and below on ministries of good or evil to our race. He is to analyze the intellectual character of God, or what is called in theological phrase, omniscience, infinite wisdom, foreknowledge, decrees. He is to enlarge still more freely on what is still more exalted, the moral nature of him who is defined with more than logical preciseness, “God is love.” Rising above the physical and psychological workmanship of the great Architect, above the government of the material and sentient universe, the preacher arrives at his mind's home and resting-place, when he comes to the crowning excellence of the Divine Being, and portrays the atoning mercy of him who “so loved the world.” If, then, the acme of the Creator's glories is to be the most familiar of the preacher's themes; if all human sciences are but ancillary to that revealed system which the minister is to explain and enforce, if eternity and the resurrection, and God and Christ, the Sovereign, the Judge, the Saviour, are to be the great objects on which his mind is to dilate, then it is well to require of him that he be not a novice, but a man of greatness of spirit, of high aims, and a large compass of thought.
The effects produced by a preacher illustrate the dignity and importance of his work. We must not expect that like Alexander and Constantine he will build cities as the monuments of his greatness, nor like Trajan rear a column, nor like Napoleon construct a Simplon. What is stately and imposing, filling the eye of the million, and fit to be celebrated with bonfires and illuminations, does not present itself as the first effect of the pulpit. The preacher's influence is refined and inward. It is upon the soul, is felt oftener than celebrated, but is certainly none the less sublime because of its intangible value. Not seldom is it too modest to be even discovered, or to be described save by negations. That bad men are no worse rather than that good men are so good; that moral evil stops where it does rather than that goodness prevails and triumphs, is often the chief praise of the minister's usefulness. Washington displayed his generalship not so much in his victorious onset upon the hostile invaders, as in preventing their depredations upon him; and many a spiritual shepherd has had no success in aggressive movements, but his great and only honor is to have guarded his flock from the wolves, and to say, “ Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost.” We wrong the good man's ministry, when we disparage it for its want of positive acquisitions. Bad as his people are, no one can tell how useful he has been in preventing them from becoming worse. The great parade they make of indifference to his teaching is often an attempt to hide their real alarm, and they are restive against him because they are held in by the curb. The bravado of wicked men is often an eulogium upon their minister, and their ostentation of sin comes from their very fear of doing what they boast to have done, and from an unwillingness to let any one know how much they dread the reproofs of the pulpit.
The preacher has an influence upon the intellect of his people. He presents to it the most enlivening and enlarging thoughts, and nothing takes so deep a hold of the reasoning powers as the series of proofs which he enforces. A sermon, if it be in good faith a sermon, reaches the very
elements of the mind, and stirs up its hidden energies; for such a sermon is a message from God; is pregnant with what the mind was made for, the solemn realities of eternity; is prolific, if need be, in skilful and manly argument, holds out a rich reward to man's love of investigation, and allures as well as urges to an intense love of study. It is a book of mental discipline to its hearers, and its author is a schoolmaster for children of a larger growth. A late professor in one of our universities, who has been famed throughout the land for his effective eloquence at the bar and on the floor of Congress, says that he first learned how to reason while hearing the sermons of a New England pastor, who began to preach before he had studied a single treatise on style or speaking; and two or three erudite jurists, who dislike the theological opinions of this divine, have recommended his sermons to law students as models of logical argument and affording a kind of gymnastic exercise to the mind. The discourses of such divines as Chillingworth and Butler have been osten kept by lawyers and statesmen on the same shelf with Euclid and Lacroix. It was the preaching of President Davies that roused up the energies of Patrick Henry, and urged him forward in his brilliant career.
The preacher's influence is upon the taste as well as intellect. There is a kind of mystic union among all the virtues and excellences of the head and heart. A golden chain seems to bind them together, and when one link is gained all the rest are drawn along with it. Thus there is a strange tie between the sense of right and the sense of beauty, between the good and the elegant. The preacher holds out before his congregation the choicest models of all that can please the taste; of that spiritual comeliness which is the archetype of whatever is graceful and refined in nature or art. By winning his hearers to what is beautiful and grand in religious truth, he fosters the love of those lower excellences that are but the shadowings forth of the good things in heaven.
Working as the preacher does upon the mental sensibilities, he of course modifies the literary character of a people. Whitefield made so little pretension to scholarship, that men often smile when he is called the pioneer of a great improvement in the literature of Britain. They overlook the masculine and transforming energy of the relig
VOL. IV.NO. XVI.