« PreviousContinue »
PREACHING AND PREACHERS.
1. Sermons. By the Rev. J. CAIRD, M.A., Edinburgh. 2. The Gospel in Ezekiel ; 24th Thousand. The City : its Sins and
its Sorrows. Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints. 16th
Thousand. By THOMAS GUTHRIE, D.D., Edinburgh. 3. The New Park Street Pulpit. Sermons by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON.
London. 4. Sermons. By the late Rev. FRED. W. ROBERTSON, M.A. London. 5. Expository Lectures on St. Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians. By
the late Rev. F. W. ROBERTSON, M.A. London : Smith & Elder, 1859.
THERE has been a great deal said and written of late on the subject of Preaching. A prevailing feeling has found expression in many quarters that so great an instrument of public education as the Pulpit is not generally so effective as it might be; and there is undoubtedly room for much to be said on the subject. When we think of the vast apparatus of the Pulpit in this country, of the thousands of sermons preached every Sunday throughout its length and breadth, of the immense resources in weekly operation for bringing the most important truths home to the mind and hearts of the people, and of the real amount of earnest intellect expended in these resources; and, on the other hand, when we note how feeble and indefinite the moral and practical results seem to be of all this—how slowly the popular feeling is moved and elevated, and in a word, Christianized it does occur as a very serious question, to what extent the Pulpit is adapted now as of old to the great work of spiritual instruction and moral advancement; whether it suits the more complex needs and requirements of our modern social life equally as it did those of a simpler state of society.
A prima facie case might be made out—has, indeed, frequently been made out-against the effectiveness of the modern pulpit ;
and, from the uncomplimentary utterances of The Times, to the chat of the after-dinner table, the dullness and uselessness of sermons has become a common topic. It is a sufficiently notorious picture, which represents groups of weary listeners in our churches, decorously submitting to the sermon as a becoming conventionality, expressing a buzz of relief when it is ended. There is some wicked colouring in the picture, but we cannot say that it has no reality, we cannot say that it is entirely caricature. There is only too much truth in it; and it is mournful enough to be obliged to make this confession when we recall the facts beneath the malicious guise of the picture; the messenger of God's truth on the one hand, and weak, and tempted, and darkened souls on the other; and think on what great subjects, and for what great ends, preacher and congregation have been brought face to face. It is no less sad than surprising, that what is in its own nature so vitally interesting, what ought to be so intensely and practically exciting, should yet prove in so many cases so listless, flat, and unprofitable; and the conclusion is inevitable, that there must be something greatly defective in modes of preaching thus unproductive, which leave the speaker without power and the audience without benefit
It may be said, indeed, that the value and importance of Divine truth are independent of the success of the preacher, that there are few, if any, sermons, however feeble and unimpressive in utterance, that are not calculated to do good if only we would receive the good. We are far from disputing the force of this, to a certain extent; we are far from saying that the inattention with which many excellent sermons are listened to, and the slight moral improvement that seems to follow from them, are not owing to that very religious indifference and hardness of heart which it is the aim of all preaching to reach and remove. The evil is not the less, but all the more melancholy on this account. That there is a strong natural indisposition in the hearer to receive spiritual instruction, does not mend but rather aggravate the perplexity as to the best mode of conveying that instruction. And supposing it were the case, which yet in the most comprehensive point of view it is very far from being, that men are less casily moved by the subjects with which the Christian preaching deals, it only becomes a more pertinent and serious inquiry, how the preacher shall accomplish his confessedly difficult task with most effect.
It is well known, however, that the way of viewing the matter now suggested does not hold good to the extent that is often urged. So far from the great topic of Christian instruction being less calculated than other topics to move the minds and feelings of man, it is undeniable that there are none which can be made to
tell on them more powerfully. In spite of all man's natural insensibility to the truth, and the coldness of his common love for it, this truth, when rightly and earnestly enforced, finds sources of interest, and stirs springs of emotion in him, which nothing else can possibly do. It bears an attraction for his intellect, his imagination, and his heart, which the loftiest range of mere forensic or political oratory does not reach. Let it be that men are strongly indifferent to spiritual doctrine and spiritual duty, this indifference, whatever be its practical operation otherwise, will not account for the prevailing unimpressiveness of sermons. For with the very same materials to work upon, and in cases where this indifference has sometimes risen to its worst height, we find that one kind of preaching has proved immensely successful, while another has been as a mere voice crying in the desert. In short, there is a right and effective method of preaching as of everything else ; and where it has become proverbially dull and ineffective, we are fairly warranted in concluding that this must be largely owing to some weakness or vice in the style or manner of the preaching itself.
To explain definitely what is wrong in the prevailing character of preaching, and to suggest the best means of improving it, is a task no less difficult than it may seem invidious. To some extent it may reasonably be presumed that our modern circumstances have in their very nature tended to impair the prominence and importance which once belonged to the pulpit. In a time like ours, when newspapers and books of all kinds are so much more widely diffused than they have ever been—when the general intelligence is sharpened by constant communication with the freshest sources of information on all subjects-it may be questioned whether the preacher can any longer retain the influence and authority of a time when the Church was really a weekly school to many, and the sermon their main or their only source of mental and spiritual interest. The power of the preacher must in ordinary cases be proportioned to the elevation at which he stands above his hearers in intellectual capacity and spiritual force and discernment. And it is obviously very difficult to preserve this elevation in a time like the present, when education among the upper and middle classes is generally of a much higher, or at least more comprehensive order, than it used to be. In relation to the great majority of these classes, it is to be feared that the theologian who instructs us from the pulpit not only does not stand above them, but sometimes does not even stand on a level with them, as to many subjects of ordinary culture; while in regard to his special subject, although he may be better informed and more thoroughly taught, he is apt, from the very character of his training,