« PreviousContinue »
easier. It is not very difficult to string together the technicalities of some human formulary of faith; or to ring the changes on a certain circle of sectarian opinions. It is not very difficult to prepare an essay in a general, indefinite, abstract manner; to wander forever in a cloud of mist around the proposed subject without ever approaching it; or to bring up a few common ideas under a mass of high sounding words and inflated phrases. It may not be very difficult to prepare a dry, abstruse, metaphysical dissertation; or to have both the subject and composition above the understandings of a majority of the congregation.
But none of these methods are adapted to promote the success of the gospel. For they do not come home to the associations, the feelings, and the wants of a mixed assembly. They have injured the cause of Christianity exceedingly; and greatly retarded the progress of pure aud undefiled religion. While some of our preachers have been seeking to attain an elegant and refined style, and to preserve a false dignity of the sacred desk, I fear many of their hearers have been languishing for the plain bread and water of spiritual life; and I believe many more have been drawn away from their unintelligible and uninteresting ministrations by the more earnest, homely, simple conversation of various sectarian ministers. I am fully convinced, from a multitude of facts which have come to my knowledge, that he who would preach the gospel successfully, must render his public instructions intelligible to the great proportion of his hearers.
2. I think preaching should also be explicit. I think the christian minister should state definitely his settled views on the disputed subjects of religion; and give the honest reasons for his peculiar belief. This would indeed be unnecessary, if the christian world was not divided into various denominations. But as the times now are, I believe the cause of truth demands this at our hands. And this can be done without any great labor or inconvenience. For I presume every preacher has some clear notions on all the controverted points of theological discussion. And if you were to ask such questions as the following, I think all might declare very readily on which side of the proposition their faith rested. Do you believe that Christ Jesus is the dependent son of Jehovah? or do you believe he is the self-existent God, or another being in all respects equal to our heavenly Father? Do you believe that the infant is pure and innocent at birth? or do you believe he enters this world with a nature totally depraved? Do you believe we can all secure christian salvation by a proper use of the appointed means? or do you believe that God has elected a definite number to eternal happiness, and consigned the remainder to everlasting misery? I do think the state of our community demands this course to be pursued by the heralds of the gospel.
Now a minister can do all this without introducing any of the evils of controversy, or casting reproach on those who differ from him. With such a practice every man of sense must be pleased; and no individual
VOL. I.-NO. II.
can have the least cause of offence. And is he not bound, by the obligations of his profession, to pursue this only honest and independent course? With his private speculations on unimportant topics, his people have indeed no concern. But with his settled views on all the leading topics of revelation, they have a special interest. For they employ him to preach, not according to himself, or a human creed, but to spend his time in a candid and prayerful study of the scriptures; and, consequently, they have an undoubted right to the result of his investigations.
Now I well know that a minister may observe a guarded silence on all the controverted questions of the day; or he may endeavor to keep his society united by seeming to favor both sides, or neither side, of such subjects; or he may render his observations concerning them so obscure, misty, ambiguous, indefinite, that no one can discover his real meaning, or rather so that each hearer may receive the meaning most agreeable to himself. And in one or the other of these ways he may succeed in preserving the union, and perhaps in retaining the affection of his hearers, during his life-time. But I have observed that the moment such a preacher was taken away, his people generally arranged themselves in two or more hostile parties; while those societies, which had been accustomed to explicit preaching, as generally united in a resettlement. I have also thought that such preachers were no more charitable, and no less sectarian, than those who made an honest and open avowal of their peculiar sentiments. I have
even thought that they exhibited as much of a controversial spirit, and spoke as severely of those who departed from their prescribed policy, as the decided advocates of liberal opinions. The evidence arising from many facts has fully convinced me, that if a rational preacher wishes to preserve his society in harmony, to have his ministrations well attended, to see his hearers intelligent and zealous Christians, to break the bread of life to a large number of communicants, he must be perfectly frank and explicit in his public instructions on all the important doctrines and duties of Christianity.
3. I think preaching should likewise be charitable. I do not believe the christian minister has any warrant from scripture to censure those who cannot conscientiously subscribe to his interpretations of the divine records. If he condemns others merely for their honest opinions, he assumes an office which belongs to no erring mortal; he claims an infallibility which belongs only to the omniscient God, and he violates the laws of charity. Neither does he receive any such authority from his supporters. You do not employ a frail mortal to dictate to you what creed you must embrace; or to sentence you to hell for honestly differing from his conclusions. You acknowledge the Bible to be the word of God, and the only infallible standard of faith and practice. You are aware that this book was written many centuries since, at different times, in different languages, by different men, for different divine purposes; that, on this account, it contains frequent allusions to the then
existing manners, customs, opinions, prejudices, errors, disputes, scenery and circumstances; and, consequently, that it requires much learning and patient investigation to ascertain the true meaning of all its writings. Accordingly, you engage a person of proper qualifications to spend his time in drawing from this fountain of salvation those truths which he may think important to be believed and obeyed; and these he is to set before you on each returning sabbath in such a manner as to convince your understandings and engage your affections. When he has faithfully performed this service, his duty to you, in this particular, is properly discharged.
But if he feels disposed to examine into the foundation and evidence of every disputed theological subject, he has a perfect right so to do; it is his duty; for he is commanded to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. So also if he chooses to describe and denounce the unchristian spirit, or conduct, of any man, or of any body of men, he has an undoubted right so to do; it is his duty; for he is commanded to judge of Christians by their fruits, and to reprove all transgressors. And in all this there is nothing uncharitable. But the moment he accuses any one as sinful or hopeless, merely on account of his peculiar sentiments, he oversteps the bounds of christian charity, and openly disobeys the precepts of his Saviour. And to be constantly railing about those individuals and societies, who have embraced views of the gospel different from his own, merely on account of this honest difference of opinion, is not only unrighteous, but really pernicious. For