« PreviousContinue »
Son of Man, should he come, would he find faith on the earth; or would he not rather be, like a root out of dry ground; without form or comeliness, and no beauty in him that we should desire him. When he departed from his friends, he told them, that he should not leave them alone; he promised to be present in the spirit of truth; the influence of the Divine Comforter was the common legacy of the church; "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world," and "Because I live, ye shall live also." Brethren, do ye witness the fulfilment of this promise? Do we believe in its reality? Have we any hope of its blessings in our personal experience? Do we look for the presence of Christ, the visible influence of that spirit which filled and fired his soul, in our institutions, in our churches, in society? We delight to call ourselves by that name which is above every name. We are lavish in our cries of Lord, Lord, to him, who was once despised and rejected of men. Our whole land is covered with temples erected for his honor. Every sabbath the music of the christian bells summons our thronging population to the house of God; they come from every valley and every hilltop to celebrate him who brought glad tidings; the solemn anthem rises in his praise; holy men utter words of supplication in his name; his sayings are repeated as though they possessed a talismanic power to expel all evil; but is Christ present there? Does his spirit yet speak in his churches? Do we behold his divine image in the faces of his disciples? Are they one with him as he was one with God? Do they display a lofty hope, like that which irradiated the hour of crucifixion: a generous love which acknowledges no limits but those of Humanity; a sublime trust in God which casts out every unworthy fear; and a cheerful earnestness in the discharge of duty, which finds encouragement even in the song of birds and the bloom of spring? If we cannot give the answer which we would to such inquiries, then has the Evangelist a work to perform, which is not likely to be soon completed; he is to enthrone Christ in the hearts of his disciples, and penetrate the church with the influence of his truth."
Next he takes up the various points wherein Christian religion differs from that of Society: "Christ announced the pre-eminence of spiritual worship over the observance of forms": society has become formal. "Jesus asserted the supremacy of holiness in comparison with speculative belief”; but creeds test the religion of society. "Jesus asserted the necessity of personal experience," for which society institutes "a blind reliance on tradition." "Christ announced
the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth"; but society has but feebly as yet comprehended the vast meaning of that announcement; and is at this moment persecuting those who would strive to carry out their views of our Lord's sayings.
The sermon closes as follows:
"I have thus spoken of some of the aspects in which the work of the Evangelist presents itself to our regard at the present day. The accomplishment of this work depends no less on the spirit of the people than on his own fidelity. Let them receive their pastors rather in the relation of prophets than of priests; expecting from them the delivery of truth rather than the performance of a pageant; and accepting the faithful rebuke of their sins, instead of demanding of them to prophesy smooth things and to utter deceits. In these days, the minister must speak out his earnest convictions, or he had better be dumb; polished conventionalisms are worn out; and dainty phrases no longer satisfy the craving hunger of the soul. If he thinks that he must color his own views to suit the popular taste; that he must exhibit truth, not as it appears to his own mind, but as it appears to other minds; he at once sacrifices the sincerity and independence of a man; he becomes a time-server and a slave; and of all slaves, a slave in the pulpit is the most to be pitied. A wise people will never allow this. A few individuals may now and then demand it; but in the long run, it will never meet the approval of the people of New England. They require the honest utterance of opinion in their public teachers; they will not be put off with words that have lost their meaning, instead of the living expression of divine truth; and he who acts most powerfully on their minds by the force of ideas, who arouses them from the slumber of inveterate habit, who proclaims the dawning of a better day, and who shows in every tone and look, that he is in earnest with their soul, will be their chosen guide. He will engage in the work of an Evangelist for their benefit, and they will encourage him in its performance."
We have already given large extracts from the pamphlet before us; but, as few of our western readers will see it, we cannot but give a passage or two from Dr. CHANNING'S "Charge," which follows Mr. Ripley's sermon.
"Preach the perfection of God, that He may be loved, not with passion or selfish regards, but with enlightened, disinterested, ever-growing love. Preach the perfection of Christ. Strive to seize the true idea of his character, to penetrate the
mists with which the errors of ages have shrouded him, to see him in his simple majesty, to trace in his history the workings of his soul, the peculiarity of his love, the grandeur of his purpose. Be not anxious to settle his rank in the universe, but to comprehend the divinity of his spirit, that you may awaken towards him generous, puryfying affections. Preach the perfection to which man is called by Christianity. Preach the nobleness and beauty of human virtue. Believe in man as destined to make progress without end. Help him to understand his high calling as a Christian, and to see God working within and around him for his perfection. These views might easily be extended, but these are sufficient to show you the grandeur of thought which belongs to your profession. Moral perfection is its beginning and end. How sublime and awakening the theme of the ministry! And yet religion, in consequence of its being so familiar, and of its having been cramped so long in hnman creeds, shrinks in most minds into a small compass, and wears any form but that of grandeur. You have seen in schools the solar system, with its majestic worlds, represented by circles of wire and balls of pith. In like manner, religion is dwarfed and degraded. Strive to think of it nobly, justly, vividly, and hold it forth as the sublimest reality.
"On moral subjects no study can avail us without Inward Experience. To comprehend religion, you must be religious. A new revelation of truth is gained, by bringing the truth to bear on our own hearts and lives. Study the best books; but remember that no "tongue of men or angels," no language of heaven or earth, can give you that intimate perception of God, that faith in the invisible, which comes from inward purity, from likeness to the Divinity. There is a light, to which others are strangers, that visits the inward eye of the man who contends with evil in himself, and is true to his eonvictions of duty. This is the highest inspiration, surpassing that of prophets; for the ancient prophet comprehended but imperfectly the revelation with which he was charged, and some times shrunk from communicating it to the world. Chrstian truth will never become your own, until something congenial with it is unfolded in your own soul. We learn the Divinity through a divine principle within ourselves. We learn the majesty and happiness of virtue by consciousness, by experience, by giving up all to virtue, and in no other way. Disinterested, impartial love is the perfection of the intellect as well as of the heart. Without it, thought is barren and su
perficial, clinging to things narrow, selfish and earthly. This love gave being, unity, harmony to the universe, and is the only light in which the universe can be read. Preach from this highest inspiration, and you will preach with power. Without this inward experience, intellect, imagination, passion, rhetoric, genius may dazzle, and be rapturously praised and admired, but they cannot reach the depths of the human soul. Watch then, over your own spiritual life; be what you preach; know by consciousness what you inculcate. Remember that the best preparation for enforcing any Christian virtue, is to bring it into vigorous action in your own breast. Let the thirst for perfection grow up in you into a holy enthusiasm, and you will have taken the most effectual step towards perfecting them that hear you.
"Put confidence in the power of pure, unsophisticated truth. Do not disguise or distort it, or overlay it with ornaments or false colors, to make it more effectual. Bring it out in its native shape and hues, and if possible, in noon-day brightness. Beware of ambiguous words, of cant, of vague abstractions, of new-fangled phrases, of ingenious subtleties. Especially exaggerate nothing for effect, that most common sin of the pulpit. Be willing to disappoint your hearers, to be unimpressive, to seem cold, rather than to "o'erstep the modesty" of truth. In the long run, nothing is so strong as simplicity. Do no not, to be striking, dress up truth in paradoxes. Do not make it virtually falsehood, by throwing it out without just modification and restraint. Do not destroy its fair proportions by extravagance. Undoubtedly strong emotion of ten breaks out in hyperboles. It cannot stop to weigh its words; and this free, bold language of nature I do not mean to condemn; for this, even when most daring, is simple and intelligible. I would caution you not against nature, but against artificial processes, against distrust of simple truth, against straining for effect, against efforts to startle or dazzle the hearer, against the quackery which would pass off old thoughts for new, or common thoughts for more than they are worth, by means of involved or ambiguous phraseology. Prefer the true to the dazzling, the steady sun-light to the meteor. Truth is the power which is to conquer the world; and you cannot toil too much to give clear perceptions of it. I may seem to waste words on so plain a point; but I apprehend that few ministers understand the importance of helping men to see religious truth distinctly. No truth, I fear, is so faintly apprehended. On the subject of religion most men walk in a mist. The words of the Bible and of the preacher VOL. VIII.-30.
convey to multitudes no definite import. Theology, bein generally taught without method, and as a matter of authority and before the mind can comprehend it, is too often the darkest and most confused of all the subjects of thought. How little distinct comprehension is carried away by multitudes from our most important discourses. My brother, help men to see. Christianity was called Light, and you will be its worthy teacher only by being, like its first ministers, a "light of the world." It is a common error, that to avoid dulness, the most unpardonable sin of the pulpit, the preacher can find more effectual means than the clear expression of simple truth. Accordingly, some have recourse to crude novelties; some to mysticism, as if truth, to be imposing, must be enthroned in clouds; some to vehemence; some to strong utterance of feeling. Of course I would say nothing in disparagement of feeling; but I am satisfied there is no more ef fectual security against dulness, than the unfolding of truth distinctly and vividly, so that the hearer can lay a strong hold on great principles, can take in a larger extent of thought, and can feel that he has a rock for faith and opinion to rest on. In the natural world it is Light that wakes us in the morning, and keeps us awake through the day; and I believe that to bring light into God's house is one of the surest ways of driving slumber out of its walls. Let me add, that, to give at once clearness and interest to preaching, nothing is more necessary than that comprehensive wisdom, which discerns what is prominent and commanding in a subject, which seizes on its great points, its main features, and throws lesser matters into the back ground, thus securing unity and of consequence distinctness of impression. Nothing is so dull as a dead level, as monotony, as want of relief and perspective, want of light and shade; and this is among the most common causes of the dulness of the pulpit.
"A minister must be a student; a patient, laborious student. There are those, indeed, who seem to think, that religious truth comes by inspiration; and it is certain, that light often flashes on the mind as from heaven. But inspiration does not visit the idle, passive mind. We receive it in the use and faithful use of our powers. Your parish must contain no harder laborer than yourself. To study is not to read, that we may know what others have thought; but to put forth the utmost strength of our faculties, for the acquisition of just, strong, living convictions of truth. It is to concentrate the iund; to pierce beneath the apparent and particular, to the