Page images
PDF
EPUB

possessor to the subtle ontanglements of doubt, yet also carry him into the highest region of Christian earnestness, and are capable of the noblest development of self-sacrifice. To such minds, preaching of this order is apt to seem, at the best, only so much loud and disgusting earnestness; never coming near to their own life, nor deepening the real love of the truth in them.

It is not, therefore, any special style of forcible preaching, and least of all the style which with many alone represents force and effect, that we are advocating. It is not mere “ loudness," either of voice or manner, that is needed; but the old spirit of life, the hearty human feeling, the broad and manly earnestness, the fire of Divine conviction, which, from the time of Latimer downwards, has distinguished the best specimens of English teaching.

The higher Source of this spirit of life we need not speak of. It can only come from Him who is the Father of light and life, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift ; unless this is recognized, it is the most obvious commonplace to remark, that no inferior means of diligence or culture can ever confer it. It is nevertheless only through such means, through certain processes of education and discipline, that in ordinary cases it is ever obtained. And the very first of these would seem to be an awakened cultivation of all the common sympathies and affections and interests of our nature, in contrast to the mere technical and professional education which our young Clergy, among both Episcopalians and Nonconformists, mainly receive. A more onesided training than that with which many of them enter their work, it would be difficult to imagine. It is not so much that their studies are partial, although this is also the fact; but it is the narrow and conventional spirit in which they are too commonly pursued, serving to narrow while it sharpens the mind, and to enfeeble while it refines it. Even in many of those who are scholars in the best sense, and who may be destined to attain literary or theological distinction, there is apt to be a certain uniform tone of mind, and (who has not heard it?) even of speech, which sets the stamp of its monotony on all they say or do.

This dead professionalism of manner and of voice, stifling all true eloquence, comes undoubtedly of exclusiveness of education and of affection. The student passes from his books to the pulpit without ever having been thrown into the hearty interests of life, or having mingled at large with his fellow men. There cannot well be a more imperfect preparation for the great duties to which the pastor is called ; and finding himself in consequence plunged into these duties without an intelligent acquaintance or sympathy with them, he necessarily becomes a prey to prevailing mannerism

and affectation. Set a man to do work for which he has no real calling or aptitude, and his very weakness is found to strengthen and stiffen in him all professional props—all cants associated with his work. Through help of these he tries to make up for his own want of power to look his work in the face, and deal with it freely and vigorously. All professions show numerous examples of this common result of incapacity, but none of them more numerous or melancholy examples than the clerical. If, on the other hand, the clergyman was to come to his office, not certainly with less purely professional culture, but with more thoroughly awakened energies of mind and feeling-a higher spirit of sympathy, and, above all, with a more free and hearty experience of life, springing from a wider and more varied intercourse with his fellow creatures, he would enter upon his duties in a wholly different temper, and with an ever freshening zeal and power which, if he had any capacity of speech at all, would give him a natural eloquence which no artifices of eloquence or study of models will ever give him. For he would speak then because he felt. He would tell what was in him-not what was deemed proper or becoming to say. He would find, even with the richness of his culture and the true refinement of his Christian sympathies, points of contact between him and the rougher natures to whom it might be his function to minister, which would prove sources of constantly new interest to him, and seem to touch his lips with a constantly new fire. Knowledge of life, not in any outward, still less in any wrong sense, but in the deep and broad sense in which the words alone have their right meaning—knowledge of the common joys and sorrows of the human heart, of the realities of affection, passion, and interest which move it—of the loves, hopes, and trials which make the common lot. This knowledge, baptized by the Spirit of all good and chastened into a noble experience, would do more, generally to revive the power of the pulpit, than any other single influence whatever.

In connection with its wider and fresher knowledge of life, there is nothing probably that would do more for the pulpit than a more hearty and living theology. We are told by not a few, that one of the present weaknesses of the pulpit is the low and hesitating tone of its theology. Preachers are afraid any more to hold forth with clear decision the old doctrines which alone are powerful to touch the popular mind and conscience. Modern culture shrinks from the assertion of these doctrines in their native breadth and effect. The old Puritan method, on the contrary, which delighted to proclaim these doctrines right in the face of human sensitiveness and worldly pride, is the only key to popular success in the pulpit. There is great truth in all this

In so far as mere educational refinement ever tampers with the great Truth of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and tinctures and weakens it with its poor amalgam of ceremonialism or of moralism, it is undeniable that in this proportion the truth must lose its power. That which is no longer the ministry of the Spirit, but of the letter in some form or another, will never bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. The educative effects of a becoming ceremonialism, and of a high-toned system of Christian ethics, need not be overlooked. But either of these, in so far as it stands before and hides from clear view the blessed and eternal truth of “ God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,” must be to this extent a weakening element in modern preaching. For while these themselves are comparatively ineffective to touch the heart, they prevent that which alone has a Divine power to move it, from finding a living entrance, and ruling it with a holy sway. Mediævalism, therefore, and latitudinarianism of whatever type, are certainly hostile to the success of the pulpit. Whether the truth be obscured from the congregation behind stained glass, or diluted to them within well-sounding moral or sentimental commonplaces, it is equally shorn of its strength, and becomes a mere echo of human pretensions, which will never become good news or a Gospel to any man.

But here, as before, there is an extreme which we must guard against. We must not confound mere “ loudness” of doctrine with the energy of truth, any more than mere loudness of voice and manner with an effective earnestness. The truth of God, in its simple statement, is far more powerful than man's most elaborate representations of it; and even so the more scriptural our theology is, the more direct and purely drawn from the Divine source,—the less it is stiffened in mnemonic formulæ, the more is it likely to animate our preaching, and give a practical emphasis it. While never evasive or latitudinarian, it should be as little as possible “confessional.” Nothing can be further from the fact, than to identify the revival of the pulpit with the assertion of any of the old extremes of our polemical creeds. Men have ceased to care for these extremes. The most cultivated, the most earnest Christian intelligence, everywhere has ceased to live on them. This or that article of abstruse Divinity may be true or otherwise—but the Gospel is not involved in such refinements, and all its clear and awful truth of love from God, grace to the sinner, and judgment in his sin, may be held forth irrespectively of them; and the more plainly and forcibly these truths are uttered, the less we regard the casuistries of the Creeds. In all lasting religious revival, the prime influence comes not from dogmatic statement, but from spiritual faith. It is the burning ardour enkindled by the good news of Christ, giving life to the special doctrines into which His loving message is formed, that touches men's hearts, and rouses them from the bondage and doom of their corrupt nature, to share the freedom and blessing of Divine Redemption. It is a theology, therefore, which shall be more moral and less formal, which shall be more instinct with life, and less elaborate in structure,-more expressive of Christ than repressive of Antichrist,—more profound and comprehensive in compass than curious in details,—genial and synthetic, rather than polemic and analytic, --liberal, but not latitudinarian—which will give renewed life to the pulpit, and breathe a higher intent and a nobler usefulness into its time-honoured function.

The Sermons which we have placed at the head of this article are sufficient evidence that the modern pulpit has in several instances at least shown the capacity of rising to the full height of its dignity and usefulness. With very striking differences these Sermons are respectively marked by great power, and animated by that true life of thought or feeling, of reflective sentiment, or of passionate pictorial description, which makes a Sermon, in contrast with an Essay or mere didactic composition, an earnest and impressive speech.

The two Scotch divines, who, for our purpose, may be grouped together, present almost every variety of contrast, both as preachers and writers. Mr. Caird's mind is obviously highly thoughtful and cultivated. We can trace in almost every sermon in his volume the evidence of that ripe spirit of reflectiveness which comes from a familiar communion with the great thoughts of past speculation, and which has gathered breadth and sympathy and charity from this communion. In treating of the most peculiar doctrines of Christianity, and setting them forth in all their fulness, it is obvious that he appreciates their interesting relations to other truths, that the points of contact which are thus brought before him are points full of meaning and of rich illustration, which he handles with great skill and often with a highly brilliant effect. The amount of thought carefully elaborated which his sermons contain is very remarkable in connection with his great popularity as a preacher; and we feel instinctively in reading one of them, that it must require a rare degree of energy, of vehement and glowing feeling, to make it all alive, and lodge it as a glowing conception in the minds of his hearers. There is the appearance, in fact, of too much elaboration; the constructive hand and the labor lime are too noticeable in the goodly and well ordered structure of each sermon. The thought, weighty as it is, and almost always interesting, is rather accumulated-gathered from

a varied and cultivated stock of reading, and by a fine force of sympathy, than struck out heated and in flame from the natural working of his own mind. The impression left upon the reader is rather that of a deeply appreciative than of a strongly original, of a highly constructive than a richly productive mind. With great intensity, and a certain exaltation of feeling, rising now and then into the region of moral sublimity, there is a want of warmth and passion; there is no kindling rush of emotion taking the reader captive, and hurrying him along with the sweep of its mighty power. There is so much calmness and polish as to make the interest occasionally languid and almost cold. Yet we never heard any one say that Mr. Caird was in the least degree a cold preacher; the fire of his manner no doubt fusing the polished masses of his thought, and throwing into impetuous movement the stately order of his language. His style is certainly deficient in simplicity; it has no careless grace, no irregular ease, but is wrought up, just like his thought, into elaborate expression and rotund forms, which are apt to weary from their monotony.

Dr. Guthrie is the very reverse of all this. His Sermons, as mere vehicles of thought, are singularly deficient. There is no reflective vein in them; not only no philosophy, but no evidence of philosophic sympathy. His doctrinal views are set forth forcibly in vivid illustrations, but their meaning is seized not only without affinity to other views and the general results of moral speculation, but often in very crude shapes and distinctions.

The impression produced in this manner upon the thoughtful reader is sometimes painful, especially when such harsh distinctions are followed out by his illustrative genius into pictorial contrasts, as in the case of the contrast between the wrestler and God who carries out the plan of redemption in opposition to Satan (Gospel on Ezekiel, p. 179), and in some other cases. With this deficiency, however, the sermons of Dr. Guthrie possess great and peculiar merits. Unelaborate, with none of the serene thoughtfulness and light of intellectual feeling which characterize Mr. Caird, they bear here and there more evident traces of fresh and original genius. There is an ease of touch, especially where he is practical and descriptive, a richness of fancy, a genuine pathos, a capacity of humorous kindliness, and a passionate earnestness, which stamp Dr. Guthrie as a natural orator. In his case, as in many others, we see how little the reflective element is concerned in the production of the happiest oratorical effects. It is needed to carry eloquence to its highest pitch, and make it a power to move the educated intellect of a country; yet it is only in rare instances that it does not work rather as a disturbing than an assisting influence in speech, while the absence of it is missed by comparatively few.

« PreviousContinue »