Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

understand him not, and weariness soon ensues. They care much less, indeed, for the recondite qualities of things, than for their obvious and practical nature. If truth interests them at all, it is in the living and palpable forms which the Bible gives it. If the water of life allures them, it is not as decomposed, but as it flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. And the common people, be it remembered, are the great mass of the people, the great majority of our hearers, and withal the most hopeful subjects of ministerial labor. It was so in the days of Christ

. His ministry was chiefly attended by the plain people, and of that class were most of his followers. He had good reason, then, for adapting his preaching to such. And so have his ministers now. He of whom it cannot be said that the common people hear him gladly, may look for little success as a preacher of the gospel. He may be distinguished as a poet, or a critic, as a historian, an antiquarian, or a metaphysician, as deeply versed in theology even—but not as winning souls to Christ.

The wisdom of our Lord's example, in respect to the point in hand, may be still further evinced. Simplicity of discourse is quite as effective with the truly intellectual, as with the common people. It is no indication of feebleness or poverty of mind, but the very reverse. It is easy enough to make a plain subject dark, by pedantic and profitless distinctions and definitions; but it is one of the highest achievements of intellect to make a dark subject so plain, that all shall wonder it ever seemed otherwise. Never is learning so magnified, as when she passes over her processes, and gives you her simple results. So the truly learned judge. Hence they respect most highly the preacher who, other things being equal, is most eminent for simplicity of discourse. And the preaching of such a man, is to them, as well as the common people, the most impressive. The truth is, the commonest sympathies of our race, the most ordinary springs of action, are ever the mightiest. Ascertain what chord is of deepest tone in the hearts of the multitude, and

you have learned what chord will vibrate most powerfully in the bosoms of the intellectual few.

Another leading characteristic of our Saviour's preaching was its directness. It is possible that pulpit discourse should fail in this point, even when in some good degree spiritual and simple. We mean by directness, such a manner of exhibiting truth, as makes the audience feel that they themselves are concerned in it.



o Wo unto you,

It is quite possible so to present human depravity, that even the attentive hearer shall hardly be reminded that he is depraved ; so to insist on penitence, that he shall hardly once think of it as a duty which he should perform. You inay so speak of the sinner," or of“ sinners,” that you shall scarcely be suspected of the slightest reference to the persons present. And though your teaching be orthodox, and your announcements of coming wrath distinct and emphatic, every heart before you may be as quiet as if your discourse had related to the dwellers in some other planet. It was eminently otherwise with Christ. He always made his hearers feel, not only that his speech was to them, but that they were interested in the truths he uttered. He not only declared to Nicodemus the general doctrine of the new birth, but he said also, “ Ye must be born again.” “ Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things ?" To one who was curious to learn whether few or many would be saved, he said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate;" thus reminding him that it should be his main object to secure his own salvation. In addressing the Scribes and Pharisees, his application of truth was often most pungent and terrible. Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer

ye them that are entering to go in.” Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." a certain occasion he was uttering reproofs like these, one of the lawyers said to him, “ Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.” But so far from retracting or qualifying what he had uttered, our Lord promptly replied, “Wo unto you, also, ye lawyers !” It is said, in a certain place, that “when the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” He so shaped his discourse on a particular occasion, that“ they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.” And the testimony of the woman of Samaria was, “ Come, see a man which told me all the things that ever I did.”

In all this he exhibited great fearlessness. For he knew full well it would give offence to many, and provoke, at times, the most violent opposition. And such, doubtless, to some extent, will be the result of a similar strain of preaching at

6 Wo unto you,

9. As on

the present day. It will be unhesitatingly adopted, however, by the wise and faithful minister. He can hope, otherwise, for but little success. A general statement of truth-a statement of it as relating to the world at large—the deceitful and selfflattering heart will be likely to disregard. It is only as “thou art the man,” rings in the perishing sinner's ear, that preaching does its perfect work. We are not, indeed, at liberty, as we have before remarked, to adopt the air of majesty, or the tone of awful severity, which sometimes marked our Lord's discourses. But our speech may, like his, abound in the second, rather than the third person. We may rest not till each hearer feels that he is intended. And as subservient to such a result, we should beware, as our Lord did, of needlessly qualifying truth. How broadly and boldly did he state it-in what paradoxes sometimes ! “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I if it be already kindled ?" “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” How unlike was his manner in this respect to a certain cautious and circumlocutory way of preaching. It is quite possible to utter the great verities of the gospel, with such qualifications, exceptions, limitations, provisos, and reserves, that though they may still retain in some sense their identity, they not only lose much of their appropriate force and beauty, but what is specially to be deplored, their application to individual cases is much less likely to be felt,

The excellence of our Lord's preaching is further manifest as we advert to its symmetry. By this we intend, generally, that every thing pertaining to his discourses was in due proportion. There was, in his ministry, no improper magnifying of any one doctrine or duty, no exclusive dwelling on any one topic. Nor was any one class of hearers regarded to the overlooking of others. He rightly divided the word, giving to every one a portion in due season. It would be a pleasant and edifying work, to review our Lord's discourses with reference either to the variety of topics presented, and the symmetrical development of each, or to the varieties of character and condition to which his instructions had appropriate reference. We shall confine ourselves, however, to another and somewhat less obvious view.

Our Lord's preaching may be regarded as of perfect symmetry, in respect to its wise adaptation to the whole nature of man, its due regard to all the departments of his complex being. Considered as the subject of pulpit ministrations, he may be describ

ed as made up of intellect, conscience, and heart. And preaching may be characterized from its bearing on these several parts of his compound nature. It is not affirmed, of course, that it is possible to address human beings on religious subjects without appealing, more or less, to all these conjoined capacities. But it is quite possible—as facts have abundantly shown-to give some one of them disproportionate attention. There are those who preach chiefly to the intellect, to the comparative neglect of the conscience and the heart. There are others who discourse mainly to the conscience, to the neglect of the heart and the intellect. And there are others still who address the heart chiefly, to the neglect of both the other departments of our being. Such faults, however, receive no countenance from the Saviour's ministry.

Preaching may be addressed, we have said, too exclusively to the intellect. Dry and unprofitable will such discourse be, whether of the topical or textual sort. Even when it keeps closest to the divine word-with its green pastures and still waters—it fails of furnishing appropriate spiritual nutriment. It is not under the attenuated, plodding metaphysician alone, that

The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.” In like unhappy plight may be the flocks of some who value themselves greatly on their exegetical skill. Preachers we have certainly heard, who reminded us forcibly of a quaint remark of Ralph Cudworth. “There is,” says he," a caro and a spiritus, a flesh and a spirit, a body and a soul, in all the writings of the Scriptures. It is but the flesh and body of divine truths that is printed upon paper, which many moths of books and libraries do only feed upon; many walking skeletons of knowledge, that bury and entomb truths in the living sepulchres of their souls, do only converse with ; such as never did any thing else but pick at the mere bark and rind of truths, and crack the shells of them.” But let us not be understood to decry the exercise of intellect in the pulpit, or the fullest appeal to the mental capacities. The human understanding is tasked to the utmost by the religion of Christ. And the gospel is eminently conducive to vigor and enlargement of mind. The wise preacher will beware, however, of that sort of discourse which

“ Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart." He will beware of addressing the intellect to the neglect of

the conscience—that regent de jure of all the soul's faculties. So his Lord's example teaches him. While the discourses of Christ were highly intellectual, they dealt most faithfully with the moral sense; they kept the heart in continual and vigorous action. It is only thus, indeed—as it would be easy to show at large--that gospel ministrations are of highest advantage to the mental powers. It is only thus, of course, that the soul's salvation can be secured. Let a minister so preach, that truth becomes with his hearers the object of mere intellection, and his discourse, however applauded, will be to them but“ a savor of death unto death."

It was said, also, that the conscience may be too exclusively addressed. However important, in some respects, its functions, it has no power of itself to purify the heart." It may be roused to intensest action, while depravity still rages and rules. It convinces of sin, but it melts not the soul into penitence; it produces of itself, neither faith, nor hope, nor charity, nor the peace of God. To this latter result, other appliances are essential. You must appeal to the heart. The fragrance of the divine goodness must be diffused around it--it must be bedewed with the tears, and bathed in the blood of Christ. The symphonies of heaven must steal sweetly over it. Thus, too, is the piety of God's people most advanced. How powerless, even as to them, is discourse mainly objurgatory! How often do they remain cold-hearted under it, and barren, and unprofitable; how often does it seem even to sear the conscience itself! Against the error now referred to, the preacher would be effectually secured by a close observance of his Lord's example. Christ did, indeed, as has been remarked, address the conscience most pungently; but knowing what is in man, he appealed not to that alone. While he reproves, he allures; while he holds up with one hand the condemning law, he points with the other to the cross on which he hung, and to the mansions he has prepared for his followers.

The wisdom of his example is further manifest, as we recur to the suggestion, that even the heart may be disproportionately addressed. Deal with it to the comparative neglect of the intellect, and fanaticism is the natural result; a religion of mere feeling is engendered, of blind and bewildering impulses, of endless and perilous vagaries. Address it powerfully to the overlooking of conscience, and a miserably selfish piety will be likely to ensue. In place of self-denial, there will be real,

« PreviousContinue »