« PreviousContinue »
to the progress of the gospel, and which the spirit of the gospel was suited to eradicate. But he meddled not with them directly. It was impossible to draw him into a discussion of them. Cæsar might be a tyrant-he doubtless was. His government was little better than a system of slavery. He made sad havoc of human rights. Yet all our Lord could be induced to say of him, even when artfully and earnestly interrogated, was but to suggest certain great and efficacious principles, which he left it for his hearers to apply : “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's, and unto God the things which are God's.” When requested, on a certain occasion, to assume, as it were, judicial functions, to settle a question of heirship, his ready response was, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you ?” And he proceeded to expose the inward evil, which formed, doubtless, the chief difficulty in the case: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness." As if he had said, “ It is the main object of my ministry to promote inward purity. This attained, all secular evils will either pass away or become tolerable.” In accordance with such views he seems to have always acted. Slavery existed in the world, and that of the most revolting kind, during his whole ministry. It existed in the very empire to which Judea was attached, yet he never made it the object of a specific attack. He knew full well that the best way to extirpate it, was to establish his kingdom in human hearts. The apparatus of war was around him, and wars and rumors of wars” were predicted by him. Yet he never preached "a peace sermon," as that term would be understood by some. If the peace of God should but pervade the spirits of men, he was well assured they would have peace with each other. What a lesson have we here for the gospel minister! He close his eyes to the secular grievances of the times, to the disorders of the social system, to political abuses, and international evils. But he should ever remember, that his chief reformatory agency, as to all these matters, is the simple preaching of the gospel, the winning of soul after soul to Christ. And this, he may be assured, is the mightiest of all agencies.
The spirituality of our Lord's preaching was apparent, also, in his manner of exhibiting divine things. It was seen in his treatment of religious forms and ceremonies. These he did not, indeed, wholly repudiate, but he made them, comparatively, of little account. To the Jews, burdened not only with the Mosaic ritual, but with superadded traditions of the elders, he said,
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." In reproof of their formality, he quoted the declaration of God by the prophet, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” “God,” he taught them," is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” He cast no contempt on rites divinely appointed, but he laid no undue stress upon them. He
gave not the slightest countenance to those who contend for certain ceremonies, as if the salvation of the world were at stake, and who exclude from their fellowship all who differ from them. The circumstantials, the drapery, the mere appendages and symbols of religion, he ever repretented as of very inferior consequence. In all his preaching, the weightier matters of the law, and the great essentials of the gospel, were the all-absorbing topics. In all his inculcations of religious duty, we may add, he had respect chiefly to the inward life. At an early period in his ministry, he refuted the superficial interpretations of the law current among the Jews. He taught them that God's commandment was exceeding broad, and that it had respect primarily and mainly to the inner man. He was always chiefly intent on the rectification of the spirit. 6 Out of the abundance of the heart,” his doctrine was, “ the mouth speaketh;" “out of the heart” proceedeth all manner of wickedness. He aimed at the reformation of the whole inan, by setting right the foundations and elements of character, the sources and springs of action.
In all this how wise and salutary was his example! How vain are all attempts at reform, which are chiefly directed to the outward life! If ever so successful, they would still come far short of God's standard—they would fail to fit the soul for heaven. But in the nature of things, they must be comparatively powerless. The farther you depart from the spirituali. ties of religion, the less you have to do with conscience. She seconds your efforts but feebly, when they have little respect to her chief sphere of jurisdiction, the world within. And if, by other means, you succeed in producing some external change, it will probably prove but temporary. You have been cleansing the stream, while the fountain is still foul and turbid. The lava has been pent up for a little season, and flowers have been scattered around, but it will soon burst forth, the more terrible and destructive for the very restraint it has suffered. Who has not observed, how utterly inefficacious that preaching has soon become, whose expositions and injunctions reproofs and horta
tives, have had to do chiefly with the outward conduct ? A congregation under such training will soon remind the most superficial observer of “the heath in the desert.” The noise, and stir, and bustle, to which clerical empiricism at first gave rise, will soon subside into the stillness and quietude of death. A sort of galvanic treatment may produce startling spasms for a time, but even these will soon cease. To drop the figure, it will come to pass, erelong, that though the preacher stand up in the holy place, and utter the most earnest entreaties, and the most awful rebukes and denunciations, he will yet seem to himself and to others," as one that beateth the air." How different the result of eminently spiritual i preaching, such as our Lord's! It bids streams gush forth in the desert. It forms not merely the cold and lifeless statue, but animates it with fire from heaven. If the heart be right, all will be right. If the life of God be but begun in the soul of man, you shall see in all the visible character the outgoings of that life. Let the gospel minister, then, imitate most carefully the spirituality of his Lord's teaching.
We may further illustrate the point in hand, by reference to the motives with which Christ was wont to enforce his teaching. His preaching in this respect was at a great remove from that mawkish sentimentalism, which may suit well enough the pages of an album, or an annual, but has little effect on man's higher susceptibilities, and is miserably out of place in the pulpit. Nor were his persuasives drawn, as is sometimes the case, from the twilight region of natural theology-from the cold and cheerless sphere of the heathen moralist. He had no resemblance, he afforded not the slightest countenance, to the preacher of whom it has been well said,
“How oft when Paul has served him for a text,
Has Plato, Tully, Epictetus preached !" The morality he inculcated was enforced by highly spiritual motives. It was in this respect eminently evangelical. It was closely linked with the cross. Its sanctions and incitements were mainly gathered from the great scheme of redemption.
Another prominent excellence of our Lord's preaching, was its simplicity. This was a very natural result of its spirituality. He is most likely to be simple, who concerns himself chiefly with the great fundamentals of duty, with the inward elements of character. Hence the whole Bible is thus distinguished, and no part of more so than the discourses of Christ. SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. NO. I.
This characteristic of his preaching may be considered in two points of light, in respect both to language and thought. His language was exceedingly simple. Not that it was low, or even inelegant. In more beautiful costume thought was never arrayed. The quotations so often made from his discourses, even when connected with the highest strains of human eloquence, are, to say the least of them, and to speak of their style alone,“ like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” They are beautiful in all their simplicity-yea, they are beautifully simple. This characteristic of language has, of itself, a charm. It not only brings truth down to the level of common minds, but makes that truth more attractive. And while it involves nothing of vulgarity or coarseness, we may truly say, that it is compatible with the very highest adornment.
But simplicity of thought is still more important, as to all the best ends of discourse, than simplicity of speech. Yet the one, obviously, may exist without the other. Nay, if we mistake not, the one has sometimes been the subject of much attention and solicitude, while the other has been little regarded. In our Lord's preaching, however, both these characteristics were combined. His trains of thought were marked by great simplicity. His illustrations were all borrowed from the objects of nature and the common affairs of life. Nor were they, on this account, the less clear and impressive; the reverse rather was true. It is a wise remark of Bacon, “They be not the highest instances that give the securest information, as may be well expressed in the tale so common of the philosopher, that while he gazed upwards to the stars he fell into the water; for if he had looked down, he might have seen the stars in the water, but looking aloft, he could not see the water in the stars. So it cometh often to pass, that mean and small things discover great, better than great discover the small.” In simile and allegory, we may add, the preaching of Christ abounded. It may almost be said of his whole ministry," without a parable spake he not.” Truth was thus made palpable to the plainest understanding. Never did he exhibit it in an abstract way. His preaching was replete, if we may so say, with simple concretions. He dealt chiefly with masses of thought, with organic forms, rather than dissected members. He might be likened rather to the painter or the sculptor, than to the chemist or anatomist. He avoided utterly that excess of analysis which renders the preaching of some so
dry and unprofitable. Illustrations of these remarks we might draw from all his discourses. It will suffice to select but one.
On a certain occasion a lawyer “stood up and tempted him.” He begged to know how he could secure eternal life. Jesus, in reply, referred him to the divine law, and questioned him as to his knowledge of it. He answered discreetly, giving a summary of the decalogue, and our Lord made application of it to his conscience. Willing, however, to justify himself, and troubled especially, it would seem, by the second great commandment, he began to question Jesus in respect to the duty it enjoins. “Who is my neighbor ?” What is the nature and extent of the benevolence required? A great question thisma grand point in theology, proposed, too, by a learned and subtle man, and addressed to one “in whom are held all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” How, think you, did he reply? Let conjecture, for a moment, take the place of memory, and the thoughtworn theologue answer after his kind. “ He defined true benevolence, doubtless," methinks I hear one say," as the love of being in general.” “ Whatever else, he said,” another relies,“ he made this point clear, unquestionably, that of all spe. cific, voluntary action, happiness is the ultimate end." “ Whatever view he took," says another," he doubtless entered deeply into the nature of moral distinctions, and the ground of moral obligation; into the relations of man to his fellow-man, and the origin and scope of the social affections. His definitions, it may be presumed, were the most exact, his analysis profound and perfect, and his exposition of the whole subject of its metaphysical aspects especially—clear, logical, and systematic." Turn we now to the record, and not a single definition do we find, not a solitary analytical process, not one abstract statement, not the merest shadow of metaphysics. His response was but a simple allegory: “A certain man came down from Jerusalem unto Jericho, and fell among thieves.” We need not repeat the rest, it is fresh in the reader's recollection. Instead of defining, or analyzing, or abstracting benevolence, he painted it, be bade it live and move, in human form, as it were, before his cavilling auditor.
The great importance of simplicity in preaching, is apparent from various considerations. It is impossible without it to interest deeply the common people. By abstract and excessively analytic discourse, they are little moved, and less profited. They may admire, vaguely, the preacher's profoundness, but they