« PoprzedniaDalej »
ality ancord, and thencensors, the church wlitary places ; and
they had but little harmony among themselves. Hence the church, though delivered, like a captive, by their sturdy blows, did not spread and multiply as in the days of the apostles, making accessions from the wilderness and solitary places; and because of these vain janglings, the church was given up to the spirit of discord, and thence sank through the natural stages of formality and frivolity and absurdity and unbelief.* Oh, that is a most unnatural divorce between zeal for the truth and the spirit of love. Without the latter, the former is always incomplete, like Milton's lion, the one half rampant, shaking its brindled mane, ere the remainder was freed from the sod.
Nor have we yet adverted to the most material influence of a preacher's piety, in preventing a controversial style. The motives of good men, the best of men, are complex. That is sometimes mistaken for a regard for the honor of truth, which, in the eye of God, deserves not such a name. How much is a pure and simple piety needed, to decide one when to speak, and how to speak, in controverting the opinions of others, from the sacred desk ! Unless an angel from heaven disturb the waters, they will possess no power to heal.
What has been said of the influence of piety in protecting the pulpit from the intrusion of a controversial style, is true also of a philosophical and speculative spirit. But here there is need of greater discrimination. If any man on earth should be a philosopher in the best sense of the word, it should be the Christian minister. He, whose province it is to inform, convince and direct the mind, should himself be familiar with the laws of mind; he whose duty it is to solve the difficulties of conscience, should understand full well all the phases and phenomena of conscience; and he is obviously unfitted for the high office of God's ambassador who cannot give to an inquiring spirit the reasons of the truth which he declares. Qualifications like these, however, are the very antipodes of that spirit which concerns itself exclusively with modes, and processes and reasons; which erects private speculations into matters of religious importance; and which asserts an abstract notion of its own after the same manner as Warburton is represented by a critic as having uttered some of his opinions concerning the “ Legation of Moses ;” as if the words had originally been applied to his philosophy, rather than the mountain of the law:
* Saturday Evening.
“ If so much as a beast touch it, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart.”
The limits which define a philosophical style of preaching are best understood by one whose heart yearns over lost men with earnest affection. He would not frustrate the very object which he most desires. Not content with demonstrating how men may repent, he would persuade them to repent. Not enough is it, in his view, to set forth the nature and process of faith; he would beseech his hearers to believe for themselves on the Lamb of God. Piety, in this matter, takes pattern from the word of God; which concerns itself with results rather than processes; with facts rather than modes; many of whose truths are always enfeebled by any attempt to demonstrate them ; and we have yet to learn that the great Author of man and of inspiration did not himself best understand and illustrate the true methods of conviction and persuasion.
There is yet another cast of preaching, differing totally from those already mentioned, but, like them, utterly failing of the great design of the pulpit ; against which piety in the heart of the preacher is the only safeguard. The poet Burns said he never could read the closing chapters of the Apocalypse without being affected to tears. There is much within the province of the preacher which is fitted to excite the sensibilities of genius as well as those of religion. There is scarcely a fact in Scripture which is not invested with such pathos or sublimity, as, in skilful hands, may be made the means of the highest and most pleasurable emotion. How easy for one to discourse with great effect on death, with all its sad and mournful associations, without even suggesting the necessity of seasonable preparation for standing before God; the judgment-day, with its flames and convulsions, and imposing array, has often been described without the least disturbance to conscience; and even the crucifixion of the Son of God, so tender, so awful, has been rehearsed in plaintive words and mournful cadence, till preacher and hearer have been transferred from the sphere of religious feeling to the region of poetic excitement. Feeling is produced, but it is not of the right kind. Emotion is generated, but not to save. Tears are made to flow, but not of godly sorrow. Considered simply as means of exciting the sympathies and imagination, nothing can be coinpared with the simple facts and verities of Scripture. But will the spirit of piety be satisfied with such an employment of
sity of ournful associath greatest
them? Was the gospel intended only for dramatic effect ? In the hour of retirement and self-examination, when the man of God solicitously inquires what has been the result of his labors, is it enough to know that he has been unto the needy as one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument ? Nay, Verily. The words of the faithful preacher are something more than a plaintive song. Not content with playing about the outer courts of the soul, he presses into the very citadel of life, and lays the solemn claims of God before the heart and conscience.
Thus far have we adverted only to the effect of a preacher's piety, with reference to the topics which are made conspicuous in his ministratious. Nor is this immaterial. One thing only is the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation; and except this be preached, and preached aright, men may be pleased, instructed, moved, but never persuaded to become reconciled unto God.
Does nothing, however, depend on the manner in which even the truth is preached ? Much every way. The very same words as pronounced by one, are cold and powerless; while from the lips of another, they are spirit and life. To-day, a deathlike languor pervades the manner of the preacher ; for it is a season of religious declension; the pulses of life are feeble at his own heart; and his pale lip attests that no seraph has touched it with a live coal from the altar of God; to-morrow, he is as the angel of God's strength, for religion is revived, and his own soul has felt its power.
In passing to speak of the effect of piety on the manner of the preacher, the most superficial will be struck with the coincidence between religious impulses and rhetorical laws. Towards the latter we do no despite. Rather do we magnify them, for they are founded in truth. Aristotle, the earliest writer on rhetoric whose works are extant, informs us, that having observed that some speakers were more successful than others in producing conviction, and setting himself to inquire after the causes of the fact, he arrived at the conclusion that certain methods of speech are, in the nature of things, better adapted to convince and persuade than all others. “It is impossible,” is the frequent remark, interspersed throughout his writings on this subject, “ to effect persuasion in any other way.” Dr.Whateley's distinction between an art and the art of composition is founded on the same philosophic observation. Various rules may be given according to which a good composition may be produced, but laws there are to which every good composition, when produced, must conform; for they are as fixed as the laws of mind itself. Systems of rhetoric there may have been of which it may be said, as it was said of the ancient schools of declamation, the more one frequented them, the more unfitted was he for real life; but rhetorical laws there are to which every successful speaker conforms, though he may be wholly unconscious of their existence. These consist not in the trickeries of art; not in artificial tones and attitudes; but in the very soul and energies of speech. Many an obscure individual, whose soul has been on fire with a great subject, has, in his natural eloquence, unconsciously expressed himself with an exact conformity to those laws of speech, which more philosophic men have analyzed, classified, and denominated, in scholastic form, the art of speaking well. Important, indeed, to every preacher of the gospel, is a knowledge of that science, the principles of which, invariable as the laws of heaven, can never be contravened without entire failure. So far as a high state of religious feeling is serviceable at all to a preacher, as such, it is only as it leads him to conform more readily to those rudiments of rhetoric, which a less enlightened piety might affect to despise. Not antagonists are they, but allies. : The secret of a religious life is an entire conviction of the truth of God. But self-conviction is the soul of all eloquence. What better definition can be given of eloquence than this : “the power of imparting to others the emotions with which we are ourselves agitated ?” “I believe, therefore do I speak,” said the apostle; and herein lies the power of apostolic preaching. Earnestness, perspicuity, directness, simplicity and force are the natural products of an inward conviction. The attempt to convince others concerning that of which we are but partially convinced ourselves, is preposterous in the extreme. He who should aim at supporting an earnest oratory without earnestness at heart, is like the Spartan who studied long and hard to make a corpse stand erect; and the confession extorted from both'will be the same: it wants “ ti švdov”— something within. Frigid and powerless must that be, which springs not from the heart. The preacher must be convinced and impressed with that which he would impart to others. Hell and destruction must have no covering. The wormwood and
the gall he must have tasted ; the demerit and wo of sin he must have seen; the fullness and freeness of the provision which mercy has made for the perishing he must have discovered; the glory of the cross he must have felt. Is not religion pre-eminently a matter of life and experience ? and how shall one testify in respect thereto, if but half-convinced of its reality, and a stranger wholly to its power? We know, indeed, that the words of the gospel may be uttered ; and the arguments of the gospel advanced ; but something more than all this is necessary. An indescribable defect will still remain; for how can one preach not himself, but Christ, if he has not first seen and felt the preciousness of Christ ? We will not stop to ask whether there be any correctness in the principle laid down by Cecil, that no man has the moral right to preach beyond his own religious experience; for it will be admitted by all, that he who speaks from experience, when he speaks at all, must speak with the greater force and effect. A celebrated Roman actor, we are told, when performing the part of a bereaved and disconsolate father, brought in his hand the very urn which contained the ashes of his own daughter, knowing well, that if his own heart was broken and melted, his natural manner must be forcible ! enough. When a man delineates religion not so much as the result of study and reasoning, as a matter of his own history; when he unfolds it with that inexpressible character of life and earnestness which accompany truths drawn from one's own bosom, he cannot be powerless. For consider the magnitude of those objects, with which religious experience is conversant; and the power and volume of that emotion which is enkindled by the verities of Scripture. Under such an impulse, what can prevent one from being eloquent ? Peter the Hermit was eloquent, when, under the power of an affectionate illusion, he roused the courts of Europe to regain the holy sepulchre; Patrick Henry was eloquent, when he struck the notes of freedom, his own soul exalted by the theme; but what are all the objects which ever elicited the fervid eloquence of soldier or patriot, compared with those vast, august and dread realities which swim before the eye, and crowd upon the heart of the minister of Christ ? Convinced of these, he ascends the pulpit, bending under the burden of the Lord; and like the apostle, even weeping as he tells his hearers they are enemies of the cross of Christ. His own spiritual experience has left no indistinctness in his mental perceptions.