Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE

BAPTIST MAGAZINE.

APRIL, 1877.

Contemporary Preachers.

IV.

THER

THE REV. JOHN CAIRD, D.D. HERE is, on the south of the Tweed, a common impression that

the Scotch are at once a well-educated and a profoundly

theological race; that they find their chief intellectual delight in reading the Westminster Catechism and the Confession of Faith, or in listening to sermons, and that the sermons which find most favour are" hard and dry.” This impression is, in more than one respect, erroneous. The Scotch are certainly, as a rule, better educated than the English, and they are, from their earliest days, familiarized with the doctrinal standards to which we have referred. But it does not, on that account, follow that they are more intensely devoted to the study of theology as a science, or that they are negligent of other branches of literature. The creeds of their principal churches are unquestionably Calvinistic, and many of their foremost theologians have been Ultra-Calvinistic. But the bulk of the people wisely avoid “the falsehood of extremes," and we have recently been assured by a high authority, who adduces many illustrations in support of his assertion, that “the old and hard crust which so long enclosed the religious thought and life of Scotland is rapidly breaking up." And whether we regard it as matter for congratulation or regret, the existence of a powerful and influential Broad Church party, is a fact too prominent to be ignored. And if, again, much of the Scotch preaching and “lecturing" is hard and dry, it must in fairness be remembered that we, in England, can easily match it, and that, on

are scarcely in a position to cast the first stone. Moreover, there have been and now are preachers in

this score,

we

Scotland whose naines are well-known in England, who can never be placed in this unpopular class. The power of the pulpit has nowhere been more strikingly seen than in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland—nowhere has pulpit oratory achieved higher triumphs. What can be grander than the robust and manly eloquence of Chalmers ?—what more winning than the genial and humane persuasiveness of Macleod, or more entrancing than the picturesque brilliancy of Guthrie ? And although these men are now numbered among

"the mighty dead," they have left behind them those who are by no means unworthy to fill their places. The Established Church has on its roll of preachers such men as Caird and Tulloch, Charteris and Macduff; the Free Church, men like Principal Rainy and Walter Smith; and who that has heard them will fail to remember with delight the sermons of Dr. Cairns ; of Robertson of Irvine, and Ker of Glasgow-- men who have nobly laboured in the United Presbyterian Church?

The greatest Scotch preacher of our day is, in our opinion, he whose name occurs first in this list—the very Reverend Principal Caird. He is unquestionably the most popular, and has been so for upwards of twenty years.

It has often been said that no preacher since Dr. Chalmers has attracted such large audiences. Even during the life-time of Drs. Macleod and Guthrie, Dr. Caird occupied no secondary place, and whatever reputation he won was the result of his preaching alone, and not of such philanthropic labours as those in which both Macleod and Guthrie excelled. The Park Church at Glasgow is not so large as the Barony, nor will it perhaps (being without galleries) seat so many as Free St. John's, Edinburgh; but it was always, during Dr. Caird's ministry, well-filled-generally indeed crowded to excess, and it was no uncommon thing to see large numbers going away unable to obtain admission. Had there been accommodation for a congregation twice the size of that which regularly assembled, it would not, we believe, have been superfluous. Dr. Caird now occupies a position in which other duties claim his attention. He occasionally fills the pulpit of the University Chapel, preaches once or twice every year before Her Majesty the Queen at Balmoral, and very rarely takes a special service in one or other of the Presbyterian Churches. But his popularity has not, in consequence, declined. There is, we are told, a greater eagerness to hear him now than there was during his Glasgow pastorate, and he is still regarded as the most distinguished preacher in Scotland.

Dr. Caird was born in Greenock in 1820. He was sent at an early age to the University of Glasgow, into whose “spirit and life” he heartily entered, and his brilliant career as a student no less than his success as a professor, might prompt him to say, when the New College was opened in 1870, “ Local association, indeed, makes it impossible for us to abandon without a feeling of regret those halls and class-rooms, dingy and narrow though they be, where so many illustrious men have taught, and those old quadrangles where the grim effigy of Zachary Boyd has looked down on successive generations of students eager with the hopes, the energies, the honourable ambition of youth.” We do not know how many prizes the young student gained, but he carried off a considerable number—first in the arts and philosophy classes, and afterwards in the theological; and his fellow-students entertained expectations of his future eminence which prove them to have been good judges of his character.

His first pastorate was at Newton-on-Ayr, where he was ordained in 1845. Two years afterwards he was translated to Lady Yester's, Edinburgh, and it was while here that he won his reputation as a preacher. That reputation had not been easily or unworthily acquired, and it could not be easily maintained. Great as is Dr. Caird's command of language and ready as is his mind, he would never appear in the pulpit without careful preparation. No hastily got up discourses, however brilliant and clever, could have satisfied him. He was too reverent and conscientious in his methods of work to trust to the inspiration of the moment.

The minister's first, most legitimate, most important office is that of a religious instructor or teacher. Whatever he neglected, this should have the first and best of his time and thought. Now, in very many situations, if a minister give himself conscientiously to the work of preparing weekly two such discourses as are at all presentable before an intelligent auditory-discourses not thrown off in haste-the mere skimming of a superficial and presumptuous mind, but the careful result of thought and toil, then no one who has the least idea of what intellectual labour is but will admit that in this work the best part of a man's weekly hours and energies must be exhausted. It is, of course, quite possible, without much time or trouble, to preach in a sort of way; to como, for instance, to the pulpit with a hastily concocted piece of talk; to fill up two half-hours on the Sunday with a weary, vapid repetition of the same threadbare thoughts and illustrations; to take refuge in the same well-worn stock ideas and phrases of systematic theology which everybody has heard again and again, till they have become meaningless to the ear, and rouse the mind as littlo as the ceaseless murmurings of a stream or revolutions of a wheel. If a religious instructor can satisfy himself with serving up this sort of spiritual fare to his people, he may leave himself plenty of time-wellnigh his whole time-for other avocations. But it will be at a sad expense to the interests of his people. That which ought to be a weekly feast of intellectual and spiritual nutriment, they will speedily detect to be but a serving up of viands, poor, shabby, ill-cooked, and ill-dressed at the first, and certainly not improved by age and keeping. Even the simplest of the people will nauseate such wretched fare, and turn away from it.

This conception of the intellectual side of ministerial work will no doubt be controverted, and facts innumerable may be quoted to disprove it. In many cases “poor, shabby, and ill-cooked viands" are, unfortunately, not nauseated but relished. Popularity of a sort may be acquired and kept without any great depth of mental and spiritual insight. How frequently do we hear sermons greatly admired which cannot honestly be said to have been produced “with brains, Sir.” Nay, is it not more commonly found that men of the keenest intellectual force are not the most widely appreciated, and that the tyranny of public opinion hinders them from putting forth their full strength ? And had not Mr. Caird possessed oratorical gifts of a very high order, his preaching would never have been, in the sense that it now is, popular. And yet we hold that his judgment is right. Commonplace, hastily-prepared sermons are given “at a sad expense to the interests of the people,” and a faithful man will prefer to neglect the momentary pleasure of the flock rather than imperil their real and and abiding good.

With such views of the ministerial office, we cannot be surprised that Dr. Caird found the duties of an Edinburgh Church too severe a strain on his energies, and that he longed for more time for quiet contemplation and study than he could there secure.

He had the courage, even at a great cost to himself, to yield to his sense of duty. He surrendered the evident advantages of his influential position and retired into comparative seclusion. In 1849 he removed to the small country parish of Errol, in Perthshire, where, alike as a student and minister, he “scorned delights and lived laborious days.” He was not, however, lost in obscurity. His services were in more or less constant demand, and on Communion and other occasions he preached in the cities and large towns of Scotland, and once or twice, we believe, in London. It was while minister of Errol that he preached (in 1855) before Her Majesty at Balmoral his celebrated sermon on “ Religion in Common Life.” The impression which this sermon inade on the Queen and the Prince Consort may be learned from her Majesty's reference to it in her “ Diary in the Highlands.” Dr. Caird was the first Scotch minister who had received a Royal command to publish his sermon, and, indeed, the late Bishop Wilberforce was the only other preacher who, at that time, had been so honoured. The circulation of the sermon was unprecedented. Upwards of a hundred thousand copies of it have been sold in Great Britain, and a considerably larger number in America. It was translated into German under the auspices of the late Chevalier Bunsen, who wrote for it a commendatory preface, and it was extensively read on the Continent. The intrinsic merits of the sermon are great, but the circumstances under which it was published lent it an additional splendour, and drew to it an amount of attention which it could not otherwise have attracted. It was now that the great preacher's reputation extended beyond the limits within which it had previously been confined, and that he acquired a recognized place among the foremost pulpit orators of the day, to whatever Church or nation they belonged. He continued, however, to labour at Errol for some time after this, resisting many tempting offers, until at length he accepted, in 1857 or 1858, the pulpit of the beautiful and commodious church then newly built near the West End Park at Glasgow. This post was no sinecure. It was not only that the congregation had to be formed, in a quarter of the city where there were already able preachers, and in which the population was wealthy, but it was also certain that the preacher's reputation would attract the University men and distinguished strangers, and that he would invariably have to aim at the high standard to which he was in a manner pledged. Apart from his hard and continuous work at Errol he could not have preached at Glasgow with such effect as he did, and even with that work as a foundation, his task could be no light one. It was shortly after he removed to Glasgow that he published the volume which bears the simple and unpretentions title "Sermons by the Rev. John Caird, D.D.," a volume which, in our own country, has passed through some fourteen editions, and sold largely in the United States. The Park Church was soon filled with an intelligent and enthusiastic congregation ; and the crowds became so great that the managers had to furnish the seat-holders with tickets, and admit no others until within a few minutes of the time for the commencement of the service. This popularity showed no signs of decrease when in 1863 Dr. Caird was appointed Professor of Divinity in his own University. The appointment rests with the Senatus, and Dr. Caird, we have been told, was selected from some eight or nine candidates, all of whom could have filled the chair with honour. There were some who doubted whether the popular preacher could efficiently fulfil the duties of a professorial chair, whether the brilliant rhetorician would prove himself an equally acute and vigorous thinker. But their doubts were soon dispelled. The reception accordea to Dr. Caird on the day of his installation was enthusiastic in the highest degree. The Common Hall, in which the humanity class met, was crowded-principally by the eleven or twelve hundred students of the University, and by such others as were fortunate enough to secure admission, and the cheering which greeted the new professor displayed all the generous warmth and the sanguine expectancy of eager-hearted youths. The inaugural lecture was a discussion, as keen in its thought and as logical in its method as it was brilliant in style, of Sir William Hamilton's “Philosophy of the Unconditioned.” That philosophy, though elaborated at Edinburgh, is not really of Scottish origin, nor has it ever taken root in Scotland. In the hands of the late Dean Mansel, it took a form which, while apparently strengthening, really takes away the grounds of our faith, and invalidates the very idea of theology, by denying the possibility of an accurate knowledge of God. Our knowledge is regulative only, and how far it corresponds with absolute truth is a question we cannot solve. Dr. Caird's exposure of this fallacious position was one of his greatest triumphs. It did not win to his side all—perhaps it did not win many—of the adherents of the opposite school, but every one felt that it was a masterly attempt to grapple with the question at issue, and that he who had made the attempt was one who could not fail to foster among his students habits of independent and vigorous as well as conscientious thought.

Into most of the classes at the University strangers might gain admission, but in Dr. Caird's class this was impossible, as they would soon have occupied the entire space, and he was, therefore, compelled rigorously to restrict the right of entrance to his students, and to this rule he made and allowed no exceptions. After his election to this chair, Dr. Caird was very rarely heard by the public. He would

« PreviousContinue »