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In the first place, if I may refer once more to historical citations, it will be remembered that the doctrine of Paul was applied practically. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was no mere metaphysical thing with him; he applied it to the sceptical and superstitious life of his time, and made it effective to his hearers as it was to himself, in emphasizing the reality of the spiritual world, in stirring within the minds of men a sensitiveness to the appeals of conscience, because of the near certainty of “those things which eye saw not and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.” As he was brave, so he made the men around him brave, by looking for that crown of righteousness which God had ready for all them that had loved his appearing. The reality of the living Christ, the actual presence of Jesus beyond the bloody arena, to welcome and commend his faithful servant, - that doctrine Paul used with tremendous practical effectiveness in his preaching. That was the doctrine which made the deep impression everywhere; and Festus, gumming it up, said that the Jews had certain questions against him " of one Jesus who was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
Once more, when Luther stripped away from Rome her fairest provinces by the preaching of the doctrine of justification by faith, it was not a mere metaphysical speculation, a mere theological dogma, for which the reformer contended so gloriously; it was pressed home upon the life of the individual, to bring him face to face with God and his Saviour, and made him feel the necessity of cleanness of heart. And that splendid reform broke down forever the ecclesiastical circumlocution office built up by the church, whereby a man was to approach his Saviour, resulting in the changing of men's individual lives and a purification of Christian society.
Again, when John Wesley preached the doctrine of free grace, it was to make men behave according to a higher and holier motive than they had been wont to obey, resulting in the renouncing of profane language, of intemperate habits, and of looseness both in the Christian membership and in the ministry of the church.
Mr. Finney's doctrinal preaching was practical and effective in giving to men who had excused themselves, on the ground of predestination, from making any effort to obey the commands of Christ, a realization of their personal responsibility “to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly before God."
The work of Mr. Moody is so fresh in our memories that we need not more than allude to the fact that the “simple gospel,” so called, which he preached was the mighty doctrine of the necessity and possibility of immediate repentance and faith, and it practically resulted in the turning of multitudes from sin, and in their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for maintaining a life of righteousness.
Now, at none of these periods of great and effective preaching did men object to doctrines. It was the doctrine which attracted the multitudes; it was the doctrine which they carried home with them to work out in practical life. It was not the rhetoric, the magnetism, the graces of eloquence, but the bringing home to the human conscience and human understanding, by the power of the Spirit, the great emphatic doctrines of Jesus Christ. And it is fair to assume that such doctrinal preaching will never fail to be attractive and to be effective.
Men have their right to object to the doctrinal preaching that is merely academic, that discusses in never so fine language the "points" of doctrine. Again, they have the right to complain of doctrinal preaching that emphasizes minute technical things rather than great things. Congregations in these times do not patiently listen to the mere tithing of " mint and anise and cummin,” as to the attitudes and forms of prayer, as to whether one should dance, play cards and go to the theatre, as to the proper carrying forward of ritual, as to the modes of baptism, or as to any of those minor matters which have sometimes filled the minds of preachers with anxiety, and their tongues with bitterness. Who cares now whether sprinkling or immersion is the proper form of baptism? Ordinary men pay little attention to the minor technicalities of religious belief and practice; they care not whether the church has the Episcopate or any legitimate ministry. That ministry the ordinary man counts legitimate which carries home to the consciences of hearers any doctrine of grace or righteousness which makes him a better man. Ordinary men are not concerned about orthodoxy or regularity, but they have a keen scent for sincerity and good sense, and they are more certainly instinctive of what is truly of Christ than are average preachers, trustees, associations, councils or seminaries. They will respond to Moody, though he could not be ordained in any Congregational church; they will throng to listen to Brooks, though his own church is afraid of him; they will hear B. Fay Mills by tens of thousands so long as he preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified, and they will turn from him with startling suddenness the instant they miss that accent of loyalty to the divine Son of God. The wise preacher studies the conviction of the average man, and tests his preaching by it. Even Charles G. Finney in his time found that people little heeded his preaching about the doctrine of perfection; and so he dropped it altogether in his preaching for that reason. He found they responded promptly and satisfactorily to the larger doctrines of the common faith, and it was those doctrines which gave him power. So Mr. Moody, though he was greatly influenced by the doctrine of the second coming of Christ in his own life and conduct, found it unprofitable to preach it; there was no demand for it, and he res ed for the inner circle of friends and pupils.
Neither do average men in our time care much for doctrine that is strictly denominational. The Methodist Church has had its great growth in spite of Methodism. The Baptist churches flourish in spite of close communion, and the successful preachers of these great denominations seldom allude, except in private ways, to what is distinctly denominational. The Congregational minister, loyal as he is to the principles of the fathers, discovers no practical advantage arising out of preaching Congregationalism as such, and he scarcely ever does it. But the great doctrines always find response especially the doctrines that may be applied to the personal life of the hearer; and whoever preaches them with earnestness and sincerity finds his preaching effective. Neither in these days do men pay much attention to those doctrines that are upon the border line of Christian faith, namely, such doctrines as can be sustained out of the Scriptures only by the most sinuous efforts of exegesis and logic, and which do not naturally and promptly appeal to the good sense of men. To preach the doctrine of the fall in Adam would be to empty the pews, based as it is upon an uncertain and brief discussion in the epistles of Paul. The doctrine of election and predestination and original sin find no response, because men believe them to be unreasonable; and strict Calvinists, though they may hold them as belonging to a precious system which cannot be discarded, do not often preach them except to a selected and chosen company.
It probably is the case that much of the objection to doctrinal preaching is the objection to the doctrines that are held to be unreasonable, that do not appeal to the judgment and common sense of people, that set forth a feeble conception of God, that find their basis only in a strange and metaphysical interpretation of Scripture. Moreover, men's thinking has been profoundly changed in these later days of the development of philosophy. In spite of all the resistance made to it, the thinking of all sorts and conditions of men has been modified by the idea of development. Christian doctrines that have been held for ages are shaken in the confidence of average people if they do not naturally and smoothly fit into evolutionary ideas. For this reason it has become increasingly difficult to preach effectively upon the basis of the merely miraculous. The parables of Jesus have more weight with this generation than his miracles. The old doctrines of arbitrary eternal punishment for sin are with greater difficulty justified; and the preacher finds it easier to preach effectively of the natural consequences of sin under law than of judicial condemnation of men in a final judgment. The result is that the preacher is less and less inclined to preach these sterner doctrines, as they are called, as he finds them ineffective. They find impatient listeners and the church does not grow well in their frequent setting forth.
On the other hand, he finds men greeting with pleasure the doctrine of God's infinite compassion and love as revealed in Christ - of God's complete fatherhood, that can never be changed into anything less than a compassionate fatherhood by any legal or theological quibble — the fatherhood of the parable of the Prodigal
Son. The preacher finds, along with his fatherhood of God, the doctrine of good samaritanship as effective in building character. Human brotherhood, when preached with earnestness, builds up the individual character and makes a strong, earnest church. And the splendid doctrine for a future life of power and beauty is always effective - a doctrine which brings comfort to disappointed souls and cheer to the bereaved – that doctrine is effective, bearing upon practical life to make it grow more and more beautiful; it fits into the mood of the times and men are never afraid of it.
A larger doctrine of inspiration, which gives us a Bible free from the millstone which so long hung about it, of having to justify every statement in its covers, the broader doctrine of the Bible as a unique record of God's great revelation, giving us, instead of the stilted characters of an impossible inspiration, the real characters of actual human history, - that newer doctrine is effective. It is a great relief when the preacher needs not justify apparent cruelty, nor things which shock our moral sense because related of Bible saints. That the wonderful poetical conceptions of Genesis are so close to the facts as nature records them, and that the prophets
were fallible men of like passions as we are, but through whom God has wrought righteousness as through no other men, comes to be a reason for the increased effectiveness of his preaching.
And in the humble opinion of the writer these doctrines will be preached with more effectiveness when the preacher has the full courage to adjust his language and his thought to the philosophy of development and the freedom of interpretation and broader conceptions of the Bible which have now come. The fear of consequences has, in the last ten years, greatly hampered the preacher. His distrust of the old ways has not been fully yet equalled by his trust of the new ways. Though he abandons the old phraseology, the new phrasing is still awkward; it frightens him a little to use the modern dialect, and so his preaching is ineffective. It is the utterance of the diffident advocate, the timid, halting, fledgling pleader at the bar of conscience. But boldness and the accent of sincerity are bound to come, as preacher and hearer adjust themselves to the new order and the new language, and God will still more wonderfully fulfil himself, and by the “ foolishness of preaching” save them that believe.
The inultitudes are waiting to hear the preacher who, taught of the Holy Spirit, trained in modern ways of thinking, and believing his message with all his soul, is ready to “cut loose " and preach with all his might the doctrine he believes. The true thing said without confidence is not much better than the untrue thing. The true word spoken with the authority of conviction constitutes the effective preaching. When the preachers of our denomination have something to say, — doctrine, - and apply it to men's needs, practical, - and put the enthusiasm of God-sent men into it,effective preaching, - then there will be no losses in membership;
– the Sunday school will fill up, the figures of benevolences will be large, and there will be no debts to raise. I sometimes think that our ranks are burdened with two kinds of preachers, who cannot, in the nature of things, preach effectively: first, the poorly trained man, who has no proper message, and therefore preaches a mediæval jargon; and second, the over-trained man, whose message has been so qualified and emasculated by his training that it amounts to nothing after it is uttered. The one has too much imagination, the other none at all. Neither of these men has any doctrine worth the attention of their hearers. The one preaches unreasonable tradition, calling it orthodoxy; the other preaches negations, calling