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divine inspiration; and he who braces himself against this appeal, strikes and presses against a brazen wall. Hence it is characteristic of every preacher who fortifies his words by giving the reason for them, to speak as with authority. “My words are not my own," he seems to declare, “but I have proved them; and you know them to be true. He that receiveth them receiveth not me alone but him who sent me. He that despiseth them poureth contempt not upon me alone, but upon his own mind, and upon his Maker, and shall at last wonder and perish."
In the second place, the preaching of divine truth in order to be powerful must have a positive element. Firmness, decision, independence, courage, we all admire; but we despise pusillanimity, cowardice, a timorous, irresolute, fluctuating mind. As a man will not be respected unless he respect himself, so a doctrine will not be efficacious unless it be seen to stand erect, to be itself a something, to have claims of its own, and to insist upon controlling the life of men.
The positive style of preaching is opposed to all superabun. dance of qualifying remark. It is needful to modify our statements, just so far as the truth requires; but it is wise to adopt such a phraseology as calls for the least qualification possible. It is a weakening process to recal our words; to advance and instantly recede, to propound a truth and then explain so disproportionately as to explain it away. There is a kind of shrinking back from masculine thought, which leads some men to overlook the main principle, in their anxiety about the minor qualifications of it. These men may be cautious guides from certain forms of error, but they are not successful leaders into the truth. We must qualify remarks which are loo bold, if we have been inconsiderate enough to make them; but when we would impress the popular mind we must speak the truth outright; not covering it up with modifications, nor seeming to take back the words which we have just given out. We must be wary in our statements, but should not have that diseased caution, that feebleness of mental grasp, which prevents our going straight forward from the Bible to the consciences of men.
The positive style of preaching is also opposed to an excess of liberalism in religious doctrine. We are strong while we are just as liberal as the truth will allow, but we only enfeeble our. selves when we become latitudinarian and indifferent. There are some doctrines which are important and a belief in which is salutary; but they are not essential to our future life, and if we
Positive Character of Sermons.
insist on them as such, we are chargeable with the vice of exclu. siveness. By this exclusiveness we may overawe the imbecile, but we lose the respect of the judicious. We should preach on these subordinate truths occasionally, but if we preach on them too often, our ministrations become only insipid. There are other doctrines, not only important but necessary for salvation. The deliberate, wilful rejection of them is death. They cannot be compromised. They must be lifted up and rallied around as the standards of our faith ; they must be enforced strongly, racily, sternly, if need be. The preaching of these doctrines should be our great aim, for in them is the hiding of our power, and the genius of them is manliness and strength. These doctrines have a right to be heard, and it is in their very nature to insist on all their claims and remit not one jot or titile. They are suasory indeed, but imperative; nor only imperative but aggressive also. Upon every form of moral evil they make an attack. They have a work to do and therefore lie not idle. They assail the con. science, they go forward against a perverse will; there is movement in them, progress, swift, sure, and therefore forcible. When we appear to patronize the things that we preach, and notwithstanding our good feeling toward them, yet acknowledge that they may be disbelieved withont serious harm; when we recommend a love to them and still confess that the want of love may not endanger the soul; when we advise to the doing of right as more judicious than the doing of wrong, but take it nothing amiss if our advice be unheeded, then we miscall ourselves, if we take the name of preachers of that gospel which is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. There is command, there is penalty; there is a strict condition ; there is a “ believe and be saved;” “a disbelieve and be lost;" and if we waver in enforcing this positive law, we cut the sinews of our strength. impossible for men who deny the reality of future rewards and punishments, to have as great power in the pulpit as if they enforced this truth. They may urge their negative creed, but they cannot make it appear really worth while for others to agree with them. It may seem well enough to acquiesce in their negation, for eternal life will follow such an acquiescence; but so will eternal life ensue from the opposite belief, and on their own princi. ples it is about as well to affirm what they deny, as it is to sanc.
I say the rice of exclusiveness ; for there is a virtue bearing the same name, an exclusiveness that insists on the difference between the spirit of the Bible and the genius of irreligion.
tion their denial. Either creed is safe, and there need be no outlay of strength in exhorting to one or the other. But there is power in a strict alternative; obey or be lost. There is power in a dividing line, if it be wisely drawn; and “ thus far but no further" seizes the heart with a strong grasp. It is impressive to look at the door that opens, but also shuts, and no man can remove the bar that closes it. There is a narrow way, and the thought of it makes men agonize to struggle into it; because it is a narrow way and few there be that find it. There is a broad road that leadeth downward; and men who hear of it quicken their footsteps to escape from its easy descent; because it is the broad road, and many there be that go down thereon. If we even invert the proportions of truth, and represent the wide gate as the entrance into heaven, and the narrow path as the way to death, we are more latitudinarian than the gospel sanctions, or the efficiency of the pulpit allows. There may be difficulties around this doctrine as around every other, but the force of our teaching is to press the doctrine through its difficulties and move onward with an unsaltering step, in a right line.
The positive mode of preaching the gospel is opposed to a merely controversial method. We have no right to banish con. troversy from the pulpit. It sharpens the attention of hearers and animates their zeal for the truth. It enlivens the monotony of discourses, and monotony is the evil to which our ministrations are peculiarly exposed. The controversial style appeals to a dis
. tinct principle of our natures, a principle which cannot be neg- . lected without harm, which is innocent and useful enough to be addressed repeatedly by prophets and apostles. Indeed the preaching of our Saviour, the mildest of men, is, oftener than we seem to be aware, enlivened by an encounter with spiritual antagonists. As false doctrine naturally leads to wrong practice, we are no more forbidden to resist the former as a cause, than the latter as an effect. The positive style of preaching being in its nature decisive, has been stated to be aggressive upon sin, and must therefore be controversial against the errors by which sin is fostered. “I was born,” says Luther, “ to fight with devils and factions. This is the reason that my books are so boisterous and stormy. It is my business to remove obstructions, to cut down thorns, to fill up quagmires, to open and make straight the paths.”— “Philip has a different nature; he advances silently and softly; he builds, he plants, he waters in peace and joy of heart.” If all preaching, however, were like that of Melanchthon, it would lose
103 at least one element of power. For the highest influence on a large class of minds, there must be severe, indignant reprimand, bold conimination against sin. Our discourses are emasculated when they include none but soft and pleasant words,
Still the controversial element, even when employed against practical evil, must not be the predominant one in the pulpit. Much less can it be thus prominent when armed against mere theoretical mistakes. It will not suffice to beat down all error under our feet. We must build up some truth. What though we convince our auditors that this or that heresy is ruinous; we have not thereby edified them in the faith. We have administered to them a medicine which may counteract the poison of falsehood, but have not fed them with strong meat or even with milk, that they may grow thereby. If the Reformers had confined their labors to a mere protesting against the Romish creed, they had failed. The world would have defended the church against all her assailants, had not a positive faith been held up as the only sure refuge from ecclesiastical misrule. In our own day we see that taste and learning and genius are insufficient to give vitality to that creed which prominently insists on “not believing." A preacher may not believe in the divinity of Christ, he may not believe in the atonement, he may not believe in our entire depravity, he may not believe in regeneration, he may not believe in the final judgment. And what of all this? What good ever comes of a mere want of faith, which is a bare nothing? What man was ever awaked from his slumbers by simply not rousing him? What family were ever alarmed in their midnight danger, by simply repeating to them that their house was not on fire? Man was never made for a mere denial of what is false even, but for the direct affirmation of what is true. He has cravings which must be met with something more than a proof that they cannot be satisfied in this or that specific form. They are cravings which are met precisely by the pure gospel. This is in its nature positive, self-sustained, independent, and adapted wondrously therein to our constitution. It teaches not that man is partly good and partly evil, half and half, but totally depraved; not that Jehovah is somewhat indifferent with regard to us, and somewhat inclined to be influenced by us, but that he is a sovereign, and keeps in his own hand the power and the dominion, and overturneth and overturneth as he pleases, and giveth no account of his matters to us, his servants. It does not affirm that our salvation depends upon gradually cultivating our native good principles until they have gained some
what of a predominance over our evil propensities; but it does affirm that our future life depends on crossing one plainly marked line; on taking one positive step; except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven; and if he have faith even as a grain of mustard-seed, he shall be a king and priest unto God. The truth of the gospel is thus definite, open, firm, striking, pointed, and therefore effective; and hence when set forth in its due prominence, it makes the pulpit “mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;" it causes the kingdom of heaven to suffer violence, and the violent to take it by force.
Thirdly, the power of the pulpit requires that the truths of the gospel be often presented singly. One doctrine will often suffice for one sermon; it is ample enough, momentous enough; nor can it within a smaller compass be faithfully analyzed and enforced. It must be made to stand out, unobstructed like the Parthenon at Athens, exposing all its symmetry and majesty to the free, full vision. By thus making a single doctrine the prominent theme of one sermon, the way is prepared to introduce a new truth as the chief attraction of another discourse. We may thus impart to every address its own distinctive peculiarity, and may invest the whole series of our ministrations with that various interest, that freshness, that copiousness which comes from unity in each individual part of the series. Often when several topics are crowded into a single discourse, no one of them can be radically discussed, and all of them in a half-developed form will be again and again introduced into succeeding homilies; so that every sermon will appear to be a stale repetition of others which preceded it, and the whole course of preaching will be superficial, undiversified, wearisome, and therefore powerless. single doctrine is held out steadily to our gaze, we may view it with distinctness, its lineaments are not confused with the lines of other truths, nor distorted into a space too narrow for it. Thus open to our undistracted examination, it penetrates deep into our feelings. The intellect is affected by general views, but the heart requires particulars. It is a single thought, now condensed and now expanded, here proved and there illustrated, portrayed in its details, pressed home upon the conscience; it is this which calls out emotion. Vague generalities are like moon-beams. Monotonous reiterations of commingled truths' are like the successive strokes of a bell; but one doctrine coming upon the soul drop by drop, wears away the hardness of the sensibility. Paul in his letters to the Romans and Galatians, has a single impres