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of exhibiting the gospel ; when you train all those faculties of body and mind, which are employed in the just exposition and in the vivid, winning, and majestic utterance of the truth; it is that you may be efficient ministers of the word of God. And, permit me to say, that as the years of your life of labor roll away, however God may bless you with success, the saddest thought, in the review of the past and in the prospect of the ever lessening future, will be the thought that your efforts are accomplishing so little in a work so magnificent. You will have occasion, doubtless, great occasion to ascribe the deficiency to your unfaithfulness; but you will have equal occasion to ascribe it to your unskilfulness. The longer you labor in the ministry, if you are not too wise in your own conceit to learn anything, the more you will see, not only of your own moral imperfection, but of your actual inability to do justice to the work. The more experienced you become in the ministry, the higher will be your estimate of the value of a complete equipment for the ministry. The longer you go on improving in this work, the keener will be your sense of the mischievousness of every influence upon your babits of mind or heart, of thought or style, that has impaired the efficiency of your efforts as a preacher.
In selecting a subject with which to occupy the hour assigned to this exercise, it would be unseemly to depart from the range of topics indicated by the name and object of your Association. I'must speak of something relating to eloquence, and particularly to the eloquence of the pulpit. Let me attempt ihen to point out some of the causes which may operate, in our day, to produce a vitiated and inefficient style of preaching.
1. There are dangers arising from a misunderstanding of the end at which the preaching of the gospel ought to aim. I do not allude here to those who, rejecting such truths as are declared to be the wisdom of God and the power of God to salvation, consider the end of preaching to be nothing else than the cultivation of men's natural affections, and the promotion of social and domestic enjoyment, by lectures on ethics. It would be easy to show how such views of the end of preaching affect the eloquence of the pulpit --how naturally that preaching, the character of which is determined by such views, loses all vital warmth, and though perhaps magnificent with the creations of a poetic philosophy, or brilliant with the light of genius, becomes, to those sensibilities of man's nature which the gospel is designed to quicken, cold as a grotto of icicles glittering in the SECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. I.
wintry moonlight. But it will be more pertinent to speak of such misapprehensions as may exist, among those who intend to hold fast the great principles of what we call the evangelical system; and particularly of such misapprehensions as are naturally engendered, in opposite quarters, by the theological discussions which divide evangelical divines at the present day.
On one side, in these discussions, it is maintained that conversion, the turning of the soul to God, is, and in the nature of the case must be, voluntary, a decision by the will of an intelligent mind; that the Spirit of God, in producing that change, operates by the instrumentality of motives addressed, not indeed to the passions of the natural heart, but to the constitutional susceptibilities of the human soul; that the end of preaching being the conversion of the hearer to God, the aim of the preacher should be to bring men to the act of renouncing selfish and worldly enjoyment as their highest good, and of choosing it as their chief end “ to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” I state this view, not to call it in question as heresy, nor yet to contend for it as orthodoxy, or as common sense, for here we have nothing to do with questions of heresy or orthodoxy. I make the statement, only for the sake of showing what unpropitious effects, on the method and style of sermonizing, may be produced by a too zealous partizanship for the view referred to.
Suppose then a preacher who is so intent upon the idea that conversion is a voluntary act, as to forget or overlook every other aspect and relation of the subject. Suppose him to forget that the act in question, however voluntary, is an act that goes to the very basis of all specific voluntary action, being nothing less than the choice of what shall thenceforward be
pursued by the soul as its supreme good. Suppose him to forget, or not to remember, that however voluntary this act may be, intelligence is as essential to it as volition. Suppose him to forget what is the truth by which men are converted or renewed ; suppose that in the eagerness with which he contends for the doctrine of the soul's voluntary activity in turning from rebellion to obedience, from stubbornness to repentance, from unbelief to faith, he insensibly comes to regard this as the great doctrine, the essential thing in preaching, the very truth by which the soul is renewed to holiness. Suppose that in the strenuousness with which he maintains that conversion is an act of choice, and resists whatever he imagines to be contrary to that view, he forgets what it is which is chosen in the act of conversion, and
under what motives the choice is determined. How will his preaching be affected ?
Is it not obvious, that he will be very likely to insist, disproportionately, upon a few common-place propositions and arguments nearly connected with his favorite doctrine ? The constitutional or physical ability of man, as a moral agent, to repent of sin coinmitted, and to determine his own moral characterthe nature of moral agency, and how it differs from mechanical or physical passivity-the certainty that man is able to do what God requires him to do, and that God cannot without injustice require him to do what he is really unable to do—these and some other points of the same kind, are the topics immediately connected with the doctrine in controversy.
Who will tell us that the preacher who becomes enthusiastically engaged in maintaining the doctrine of the voluntariness of men in conversion, against all supposed opposition, will not be in danger of insisting frequently, largely, and even continually, upon these topics ? And who will tell us that such preaching does not, after a little while, however exciting to those who never heard such views before, become dull, tedious, and as ineffectual to move man's higher and moral sensibilities, as the preaching of mathematical theorems.
This, however, is an effect which is always more or less apparent, when the preacher has become engrossingly engaged
in asserting some particular point of controversial divinity. To use a familiar but significant expression, he has mounted his hobby; and though the zeal with which he rides it may be extremely interesting for a while, it presently becomes, first to the people, and afterwards to himself, a trite and sleepy affair. Whatever his hobby may be, be it the millennium, or the doctrine of election, or anti-slavery, or temperance, or the unlawfulness of voluntary associations for doing good, or the divine right of congregational churches, or, as in the instance before us, the doctrine of man's voluntariness in conversion, the same sort of result is likely to be manifested. The temporary interest in the subject which enthusiasm naturally produces, will as naturally be succeeded by weariness in the hearer, and wearisomeness in the preacher. But in the instance now in question, there is another effect upon the preacher. The hobby which he rides not only carries him round one narrow circle, but carries bim off from the preaching of the gospel itself, to the preaching of some particular points touching the reception of the gospel. Men are renewed and made holy, by the objective truths of Christianity, brought home to the mind by the power of God himself, and received there, by a living faith, as springs of emotion and of action. The doctrine of Christ crucified and its correlate doctrines—those awful and subduing revelations of the character and government of God, and of the nature, character and moral relations of man, which form the orb of light around the cross—are the wisdom of God and the power of God 10 salvation; and these doctrines, the objects of christian faith, the motives to christian holiness, the sources of christian joy, it is the first great duty of the preacher to inculcate. The preaching of these doctrines, not by rote, or as received by mere tradition, but from a mind that perceives their evidence, their meaning, their grandeur, and from a heart that feels their power, will be full of life and various and unfailing interest. But that preaching which, habitually omitting the objective grounds of religious affection, has to do only or chiefly with the analysis and description of certain subjective processes of mind, cannot be—however perfect in its kind—cannot be of the highest order of eloquence. If eloquence would make the hearer weep with pity, is it to be done by metaphysical disquisitions on the subjective feeling of compassion, or by a clear exhibition of the object of compassion ? If you would waken in a hearer the highest feeling of sublimity, will you read lectures to him on the nature of the emotion and set him upon the inspection of his own mental exercises ? Or will you, by the power of description, place him under the roaring of Niagara, and make bim see that rushing world of waters, and show him the rainbow which, from century to century, still sits upon the boiling surges, “like hope upon a death-bed."
There is another view to be taken here. The preeminent glory of pulpit eloquence, is its dignity, simplicity, and directness. Preaching, when it is what it should be, is nothing else than truth, naked truth, truth from eternity, grappling with the intellect, the conscience, the affections, and bringing them into captivity to Christ. How does such eloquence disdain all artifice and trick—all the devices of the stage and of the stump. How is it degraded, and God bimself dishonored, when it is forced into so mean an alliance. But if the preacher is continually insisting upon the voluntariness of conversion ; if that, in one shape and another, comes to be the beginning and end of all his sermons and addresses ; if he falls into the habit of telling his hearers, how easy a thing it is to be converted—“nothing but an act of choice”_" nothing but changing your mind”“ as easy as to move from your seat, or to turn your hand over ;" if he feels that all he has to do is simply to make them choose, to bring them to some determination, to get them to comunit themselves in favor of religion ; how naturally may his preaching degenerate into a mere appeal to the nerves by hideous descriptions and hideous noises and grimaces, or into a reckless endeavor to get the hearers upon what he calls with appropriate barbarism the “anxious-seat.”
How naturally may preaching, under this influence, become a painful mixture of serious and eternal themes with coarse anecdotes and low caricature, and pantomime, and artifices to get people to commit thenselves before they know it. From such debasement of the pulpit and the sanctuary, may the God of our fathers save his churches !
Thus far of the danger arising from a too enthusiastic asserting of the doctrine of man's voluntariness in conversion. Let us now see if everything is safe in the opposite quarter. On the other side, in these theological discussions, it is maintained that men are converted from their sins, and renewed to holiness, by the power of God; that the sinner is dependent on God for a divine influence, by which a new moral disposition is to be created within him; and that till the grace of God thus interposes, all arguments and motives addressed to the sinner will be in vain. It would be aside from my present purpose to inquire whether there is really any contradiction between this view and the other; or whether any of those who maintain the other are willing to be considered as rejecting this. I state this view, as I stated the other, only for the sake of showing what danger may arise to the pulpit from a too zealous partizanship.
Suppose then a preacher to become so zealous for the doctrine of the dependence of the sinner on the grace of God, that he forgets, or overlooks, the fact of the sinner's voluntary and responsible nature. Suppose him to dwell in his preaching upon the doctrine of man's passivity in regeneration, till be no longer remembers that regeneration is a change wrought by the instrumentality of truth in an intelligent and active mind, or that motives, arguments, appeals to the soul's nature as sensitive and active, have anything to do with the result. Suppose him to become so alarmed at the progress of inquiry and speculation, and the mixture of philosophy with religion, that he begins to