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lamentable deficiency in that kind of preaching which commends itself to men's consciences, and which alone God honors in the salvation of souls. God has never honored mere talent and learning and rhetoric and logic and accomplishment--however distinguished, in his ministers. “Not by might" of human strength and display, "nor by power" of worldly wisdom and gifts," but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” The most gifted and popular ministry may be utterly barren of the "fruits of the Spirit.” And are we not cursed with a curse—are not revivals of religion growing less and less frequent and general--are not pride and ambition and worldliness and the love of display and the spirit of unholy rivalry and dissension, creeping into the ministry and into all our churches, as, in part at least, the result of the deficiency here complained of? Is not this one of the main causes of that sad declension of religion over which we are called to mourn? May not this be the reason why the evangelical Pulpit of our day has so little power with the world?
I do know that there are not a few laymen in our churches, and, among the number, many distinguished for their intelligence, standing and worth, who grieve over this defect, and feel and do not hesitate to declare that the popular style of preaching is not to their taste ; does not profit them; and who long for a more simple preaching of the Word of God. Daniel Webster expressed the feelings of thousands like him, in the church and out of it, when he said, in a criticism on a learned and able discourse to which he had listened, “If clergymen in our day would return to the simplicity of the gospel, and preach more to individuals and less to the crowd, there would not be so much complaint of the decline of true religion. Many of the ministers of the present day take their text from St. Paul and preach from the newspapers. When they do so, I prefer to enjoy my own thoughts rather than listen. I want my pastor to come to me in the spirit of the gospel, saying, Your are mortal ; your probation is brief ; your work must be done speedily. You are immortal too. You are hastening to the bar of God; the Judge standeth before the door.' When I am thus admonished, I have no disposition to muse or to sleep.” The rebuke is deserved ; would that we all might heed and profit by it!
It were not difficult to account for the change which has come over the pulpit in our day; the fault is in the times more than in the ministry. We live in a new age of the world. Twenty-five years have given birth to immense changes. We are flooded with new ideas. The boundaries of knowledge are greatly enlarged. A powerful impulse has been given to the human mind. Mankind have cut loose from old notions. New tastes and habits and forms of life have come into being. The sober and the real, the contemplative, the substantial and the supernatural, are displaced by the ideal, the excitable, the impulsive, the showy, the fanciful, the natural and sensual. The life of man as a social being and a creature of earthly instincts and interests and duties, has been immensely quickened and aug. mented. And it is not wonderful in such a day, that God's own Book of moral and eternal truths, unchangeable, supernatural, and spiritual from their very nature-bodied forth to man in the language and forms of ancient modes of thought and life, and appealing only to the inner soul of man, should in a measure be despised and neglected. It is not strange that the ministry, seeing this, and themselves experiencing the baptism of this new dispensation, should often essay to fight this modern Goliath of awakened thought, of social change, of intellectual error, or religious indifference, with "carnal weapons"—the weapons of human wisdom and might-instead of "the simple sling and stones” out of the brook. But depend upon it, my brethren, we cannot cope successfully with the present race of giants with their own weapons. We cannot, in our calling, measure our strength with the world and prosper. Time was when learning and science and the arts and oratory were confined to the sanctuary, almost to the ministry. Then they were means of influence and of ascendency. But that day is past, and a new order of things exists. We can no longer excel in these things. We cannot cope with the professor's chair, with the lecture-room, with the secular press, even on this field. We have not the time nor the opportunity for it. We must arm ourselves with other weapons or we shall certainly lose ground. Our strength and sufficiency are in God alone, and in his inspired Word. Our lever is a moral one, having its fulcrum deep down in the human conscience, and the only effectual power we can apply to that lever is the simple authoritative Word of the living God. If ever there was an age of the world that demanded to have the voice of God, speaking to man in the Volume of inspiration, sounded out with clearness and with emphasis--an age demanding simple faith in God's all-sufficiency, in the power of supernatural Truth, eminent holiness and a special baptism of the Holy Ghost, in those who exercise the Gospel Ministry, that age is certainly the present.
II. I have already more than hinted at the kind of preaching demanded by the times. I mean what may be distinctively called BIBLE PREACHING. If asked to define this term I might be unable to do it definitely and precisely. I mean more by it than simple exposition or the use of scripture language, or doctrinal preaching. Four remarks will pretty clearly indicate what I understand by Bible Preaching.
1. The Holy Scriptures must obviously UNDERLIE all our teaching. They are the sole basis of our ministry. They are the substratum, and they are to furnish the entire subject matter of
We are not at liberty to go beyond the record
to introduce topics foreign to it-or to launch out into the wide and uncertain field of speculation. We are to ground every sermon upon the plain import of God's revealed Word. God has put his own inspired Scriptures into our hands " which are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus ;" and it is our simple duty to explain, defend and enforce the teachings of these Divine Scriptures. And this foundation certainly is broad enough, and the topics and materials which the Scriptures furnish are varied and ample enough to occupy fully and exhaust the most capacious and well-furnished mind, so that we are without excuse in neglecting the Scriptures.
All this I suppose is readily admitted. And yet how much of the preaching of the day will not bear this test. How many sermons are preached that are entirely independent of the Bible in their cast and spirit, language and reasoning. Topics are introduced into the pulpit-matters of mere opinion and speculation are discussed-fields of thought and inquiry are traversed well enough in their place, but as foreign to the main scope of the Scriptures and the salvation of sinners, as if Shakspeare, or Coleridge, or La Place were the text-book! Such preaching may attract admiring crowds, but it will not carry home conviction to the hearts of sinners and convert them from the error of their ways.
2. The Bible must be our decisive AUTHORITY in all our teaching. And that authority must be constantly acknowledged, made prominent, and appealed to as the sole warrant and power of our ministry. All the independent opinions and reasonings of men have but little weight in matters of religion. One text of Scriptare directly to the point, is worth more than volumes of traditions, commentaries, speculations however learned and ingenious, and authorities. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." "To the law and the testimony;" if they are not made to bear out clearly our teaching-made the high court of appeal in all matters of doctrine and duty-if we do not show perfect confidence in the Bible and make the simple authority of God the right arm of our strength, our ministry will be essentially wanting ; it will fail to convict and convert men.
The Bible, remember, assumes many things; and its simple statement of facts, doctrines and duties not only authoritatively settles the points involved which claim our attention, but after we have tried upon them all our ingenuity, learning and philosophy, we shall be no wiser than God's own Word makes us. How much preaching is thrown away, which, not satisfied with a “thus saith the Lord,” — with receiving the truth as matter of faith from the Word of God-seeks to reason it all out and make it matter of intellectual demonstration! I do believe that preaching loses immensely by coming down from the high vantageground of inspired truth to deal with the Bible much as we
would deal with any other book. It is wonderful how the heart of man responds to the simple Word of God-responds though that word be mainly a matter of faith and of conscience; and nothing can compensate for keeping that word in the background, or making it subordinate.
This is one of the essential elements of Bible preaching; and yet undeniably much of the preaching of the times is lamentably wanting in it. I fear there is a wide-spread and growing deficiency just on this fundamental point. How much of it is attributable to lax views in regard to the inspiration of all Scripture-or to the introduction of German theology and literature into our country-or to a desire to adapt preaching to the peculiar spirit and genius of the age-I am not able to say. What a decided and extensive change has come over the pulpit in this respect during a single generation, must be apparent to all who have had any opportunity for observing. The spirit if not the principles of Rationalisni and Naturalism is fast gaining ground among us. What is meant by this remark is simply a tendency to look at man and the system of salvation from other standpoints than the stand-point of divinely inspired and revealed truth. It was among the very last services which Professor Stuart rendered to the church to pen a most emphatic and solemn warning to his brethren on this very point. Never more than now was there wanted a ministry rooted and grounded in their convictions of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and disposed to honor and insist 'upon the authority of the Scriptures as absolute and sufficient, and above suspicion.
3. Bible preaching must of course be the preaching of the BIBLE itself. Not only must the Bible be the groundwork of it, and the authority to enforce it, but the staple of it also, the sum and substance of it. Our simple business is to unfold and vindicate, enforce and apply the meaning or truths of the Bible. We are to set forth the facts, doctrines, principles, and life of the Divine Word, in all their fulness, and seek to give them their practical effect in their varied relations. In doing this we may use our own language or Bible language-adopt the topical or textual mode of preaching the expository or sermonic form-preach from one text or ten-follow the order of books, or go as judg. ment and the Spirit of God may guide us. All this relates to the manner and is subordinate. The great thing is to get the mean, ing, the teaching, and the spirit of God's own Book fairly and forcibly before the minds, and into the hearts, and down upon the consciences of our hearers.
No one it is supposed really doubts this. And yet, brethren, it is no easy thing to preach thus ;-it is not the popular way preaching in these times. The pressure of great and manifold temptations is constantly upon us to preach quite " another gospel”—a gospel of philosophy, and literature, and rhetoric-or & gospel of mere social reforms, and humanitarian notions, and
transcendental affinities in order to meet the wants, or keep pace with the supposed progress of the age. Is it not an alarming fact that doctrinal, expository, and even textual preaching has well nigh ceased from our pulpits ?. The good old practice of quoting Scripture freely from the Pulpit has nearly passed away. There are more frequent quotations from the Poets and the Classies in multitudes of modern sermons, than from the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels! Indeed such is the cast, the level, the genius of not a small portion of our present preaching that the plain and simple, the sober and matter-of-fact language and sentiment of the Bible, would be quite out of place in it-would be thought tame and common-place, and would offend fastidious ears. I do believe that the ministry of our day are greatly at fault here. I do fear, brethren, that we yield too much to the demands of this polite, fastidious, esthetic, and would-be-thought highly cultivated and philosophic age. I do think that our sermons have come to partake too much of the popular Lecture, and the Essay form, and that we need to come back to primitive models--to that preaching which is "eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures.” The Bible, THE WHOLE BIBLE, AND NOTHING BUT THE Bible-oh, if this were the motto of all who exercise the gospel ministry, the Bible would not so often fail to prove the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. But how many are mere philosophers, or lecturers, or essayists, or poetizers, or declaimers in the pulpit where Christ and his cross are the only fitting theme, and where the words of truth and soberness only become the dying lips which speak to dying souls. The late Dr. Erskine Mason-himself with all his erudition and his phi. losophic mind a beautiful exemplification of the sentiment, once made this pregnant and instructive remark: " Brethren, be as much of the philosopher as you please in your study, but in the pulpit never."
4. Finally, Bible preaching must embrace the exhibition of the spirit and divine life of the Scriptures. The letter killeth, while the spirit maketh alive. Not only must our preaching be grounded in the Scriptures, and enforced by their authority, and fairly drawn from them, but it must take its peculiar inspiration and moral character from them. A man must himself drink into the spirit of the Bible-enter its inmost sanctuary-understand it both experimentally and critically and have his intellectual and spiritual being in the Bible_must experience the power of God in his soul, and know the positive experimental side of Christianity-he must love to study and pry into the Bible, and dwell in that world of spiritual light and wonders, before he can truly and effectively preach the Bible. And the more intelligent piety there is in the preacher--the more familiar he is with the inner life of the Scriptures--and the more he comes under the baptism of that same Holy Spirit which indites and dwells in the Word, the more truly and powerfully will he be likely to preach it.