He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
~ Acts 19:2
But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;
~ Titus 1:3
Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
~ 2 Timothy 4:17
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
~ Romans 10:14c
An Earnest Ministry—the Need of the Times, by John Angell James. 1847. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
Motives to Earnestness.
I. Earnestness is demanded of the Christian minister, by both his theme and his object. When Pilate proposed to his illustrious prisoner the question, “What is truth?” he brought before him the most momentous subject which can engage the attention of a rational creature; and if Christ refused to give an answer, his silence is to be accounted for by the captious or trifling spirit of the questioner—and not by any insignificance in the question. Truth is the most valuable thing in the universe, next to holiness; and truth, even that truth which by way of eminence and distinction is called ‘the truth’—is the theme of our ministry. Take any branch of general science, be it what it may, and however valuable and important it may be considered, its most enthusiastic student and admirer cannot claim for it that supremacy which is implied in the expression, ‘the truth’. Who shall adjust the claims to this distinction of the various physical and moral sciences, and declare, in opposition to the false pretensions of usurpers, which is the rightful possessor of the throne? Who? The God of truth himself; and He has done it—He has placed the Bible on the seat of majesty in the temple of truth, and has called upon all systems of philosophy to fall down and do it homage.
This is our subject—eternal, immutable truth. Truth given pure from its Divine Source, and bearing with it the evidence and impress of its own Omniscient Author. O what, compared with the truths of Scripture, are the loftiest and noblest of the sciences—chemistry, with its beautiful combinations and affinities; or astronomy, with its astounding numbers, magnitudes, distances, and revolutions, of worlds; or geology, with its marvelous and incalculable dates of bygone ages? What is matter, inert or organized, however diversified, classified, or combined with its laws of necessity, compared with minds and souls, and the laws of moral truth by which their free actions are regulated? What is nature, compared with the God of nature? What the heavens and the earth, compared with the ‘marvelous mind’ which looks out upon them through the organ of vision, as from a window commanding the grand and boundless prospect? What the fleeting term of man’s existence upon earth, with its little cycles of care, sorrow, and labor, compared with the eternal ages through which the soul holds on her course of deathless existence? The works of creation are a dim and twilight manifestation of God’s nature, compared with the grandeur and more perfect medium of redemption. The person of the Lord Jesus Christ is itself a wonder and a mystery, compared with which all other displays of Deity are darkness; this is the shekinah in the holy of holies of the temple of God’s creation, towards which all orders of created spirits, from the most distant parts of the universe, reverently turn and do homage to the great God our Savior.
This, this, is our theme—the truth of God concerning himself; the truth of an incarnate Deity; the truth of man’s redemption by the cross; the truth of the moral law, the eternal standard of rectitude, the tree of knowledge of good and evil; the truth of the gospel, the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God; the truth of immortality, of heaven, and of hell—the truth couched under the symbols of the Levitical law, and the visions of the Jewish prophets, and fully exhibited in the gospels of the evangelists, and the inspired letters of the apostles. Again I ask, exultingly and rapturously, what are the discoveries and inventions of science, compared with these themes? Viewing man in relation to immortality, as sinful and accountable, what is art or science, compared with revealed truth? And shall we, can we, be otherwise than earnest in the promulgation of this truth? Shall we touch such themes with a careless hand and a drowsy mind? Shall we slumber over truths which keep in wakeful and energetic activity all other orders of created intelligences, and which are at once the object and the rest of the Uncreated Mind?
Let us look at the earnestness, with which the sons of science pursue their studies. With what enthusiasm they delve into the earth, or gaze through the telescope at the heavens, or hang over the fire; with what prolonged and patient research they carry on their experiments, and pursue their analyses; how unwearied in toil, and how enduring in disappointment, they are; and how rapturously they hold up to the world’s gazing and wondering eye some new particle of truth, which they have found out after all this peering and prying into nature’s secrets. Ministers of the gospel, is it thus with the men who have to find out the truths of nature, and shall we who have the volume of inspired revealed truth opened before us, drone, loiter, and trifle over its momentous realities? Shall the example of earnestness be taken from him who analyses man’s lifeless flesh, to tell us by the laws of organic chemistry its component parts, rather than from him who has to do with the truths that relate to the immortal soul? Shall he whose discoveries and lessons have no higher object than our material globe, and no longer date than its existence—be more intensely in earnest than we who have to do with the truth that relates to God and the whole moral universe—and is to last throughout eternity? What deep shame should cover us for our lack of ardor and enthusiasm in such a service as this.
And then what is the purpose for which this truth—so grand, so solemn, so sublime—is revealed by God, and is to be preached by us? Not simply to gratify curiosity; not merely to conduct the mind seeking for knowledge to the fountain where it may slake its thirst; no—but to save the immortal soul from sin, death, and hell, and conduct it to the abodes of glorious immortality. The man who can handle such topics, and for such a purpose, in an unimpassioned careless manner, and with an icy heart, is the most astounding instance of guilty lukewarmness in the universe—to his self-contradiction, no parallel can be found, and he remains a fearful instance how far it is possible for the human mind to go in the most obvious, palpable, and guilty inconsistency. A lack of earnestness in the execution of that commission, which is designed to save immortal souls from eternal ruin, and to raise them to everlasting life, is a spectacle which, if it were not so common, would fill us with amazement, indignation, and contempt.
We have read the speeches of the great masters of eloquence, both of ancient and modern times—and have sympathized with the intense concern, and untiring effort, with which they gave utterance to the mighty words that flashed from their burning souls; and do we condemn as an enthusiast the Athenian orator who so agonized to save his country from the yoke of Philip; the majestic Roman who roused the indignation of the republic against the treason of Cataline; or our own Wilberforce, who for twenty years lifted his voice in appeals to the justice and mercy of a British Parliament against the atrocities of the slave trade? On the contrary, we deem no eulogy sufficient to express our admiration of their noble enthusiasm. But our praise of them, is the condemnation of ourselves. For how far short of them do we fall in earnestness, though the salvation of a single soul, out of all the multitudes that come under the influence of our ministrations—is an event, which is inconceivably more momentous in its
consequences, because enduring through eternity, than all the objects collectively for which those men exhausted the energies of their intellects and lives.
Do we really believe that we are either a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death—to those who hear us? Or is this mere official phraseology, never intended to be understood in the ordinary import of the words? Is it a matter of fact, or only the solemn garnish of a sermon, the trickery and puffing of pulpit vanity—that souls are perpetually rising from beneath our ministry into the felicities and honors of the heavens—or dropping from around our pulpits into the bottomless pit? Are companies of immortal spirits continually summoned from our congregations to inhabit eternity, and supply heaven or hell, to swell the numbers of the redeemed, or to add to the multitude of the lost? If this be true, (and we are gross deceivers, mere pulpit actors, reverend hypocrites, if we do not believe in its truth) then where is the earnestness that alone can give consistency to our profession, and is appropriate to our situation, and adequate to our convictions? Have we really become so carelessly, so criminally familiar with such topics as salvation and damnation—that we can descant upon them with the same calmness, coolness, not to say indifference, with which a public lecturer will discuss a branch of natural philosophy? O where is our reason, our godliness, our consistency?
II. Earnestness is imperatively demanded by the state of the human mind, viewed in relation to the truths and objects just set forth.
This was glanced at in an earlier part of the work—but must be now resumed and amplified. The entreating and beseeching importunity which was employed by the apostle—and which is found to be no less necessary for us—presupposes on the part of its objects, a reluctance to come into a state of reconciliation with God, which must be assailed by the force of vehement persuasion. Although we have to treat with a revolted world, a world engaged in mad conflict with Omnipotence—yet if the guilty rebels were weary of their hostilities, and in utter hopelessness of success, were prepared on the first offer of mercy to throw down their arms, and in the spirit of contrition sue for pardon—ours would be an easy mission, and we might spare ourselves the trouble of earnestness and admonition. But the very reverse is the case.
“The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The hearts of men are fully set to do evil. We find them taken up, occupied, influenced, governed—by the palpable and visible things of the present life; and our business is to engage them in constant resistance to the undue influence of seen and temporal things, by a vigorous faith in the things that are unseen and eternal. Our aim and labor are, by the power of the unseen world to come, to deliver them from the spell of the present state, with whose pageantry they are enamored, and under whose fascination they are well pleased to continue. And all the while they are so occupied by the pursuits of business, so engrossed by the cares, comforts, and trials of life; and are in such breathless haste to pursue, such distracting bustle to possess, and such ardent hope to enjoy, the various objects of their earthly desires, that when we call their attention to serious godliness, as the one thing needful, we are deemed intrusive, audacious, and troublesome—as one who would stop another in a race, to offer him an object foreign to that for which he is contending.
But the difficulty does not stop here; if this were all, we would have only a very small share of the opposition which now calls forth our energy and requires our most strenuous efforts; for when we have succeeded in gaining a hearing and arresting attention, we have to contend not only with an indisposition to receive the truth—but a determined hostility against it. To those who are naturally disposed to think well of themselves–we have to produce a sense of utter worthlessness and depravity. To those who will only admit only a few imperfections and infirmities—we have to displace their feeling of self-esteem, by one of self-condemnation and self-abhorrence. We have to substitute for a general and unhumbled dependence upon Divine mercy, such a conviction of exposure to the curse of God’s violated law, as makes it difficult for the trembling penitent to see how his pardon can be harmonized with the claims of justice—to offer salvation upon terms which leave not the smallest room for self- congratulation, or the operation of pride; indeed to carry such a message as frequently excites disgust, calls forth the bitterest enmity of the human heart, and arouses all its self-love in determined hostility.
And then the salvation exhibited in the gospel is not only opposed to the pride— but also to the passions, of fallen man. It requires the excision of sins dear as our right hand, the surrender of objects which have enamored our whole soul, the breaking up of habits which have grown with our growth, and strengthened with our strength.
Sometimes we have, in addition to all this, to summon our hearers to a war without, as well as to a conflict within, and to verify the words of Christ, that he came to send a sword instead of peace, and to set parents against children, and children against parents. What minister has not sometimes felt his courage ready to quail, and his steadfastness in danger of faltering, when called to lead on some persecuted convert to brave the cruel mockings, reproaches, frowns, threats, and violence—of his nearest and dearest earthly connections? I agonize as I write, to think what I, among others, have witnessed of this kind. Verily it is through tribulation that some, even in these peaceful times, are called to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And then, following on the difficulties of the Christian ministry, to prevent the first impressions of divine truth from vanishing like the cloud, or exhaling like the dew; to drive the inquirer from finding repose any where but at the cross of Christ; to guard the feeble, and to inspire the timid with courage; to detect the deceit of the heart, and to aid the novice in breaking off from besetting sins; to inspire a resolution of crucifying the flesh, and to stimulate the soul to an ever onward progress in sanctification; to meet the epidemic malady of our sinful nature, which assumes so many shapes, and appears under such a variety of symptoms, with a proportionate and well adapted variety of treatment; to help the believer to beat down his foes under his feet, and amid all his various trials, temptations, and difficulties, to continue steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, notwithstanding the counteracting influence of much unremoved corruption in his heart—this, all this, must require in him who has to do it, earnestness of the most collected and concentrated kind.
To carry on the ministry of reconciliation in this revolted world, with the intention and desire of recovering its inhabitants from sin and Satan unto God, when the opposition to be overcome is considered, must appear to every reflecting mind the most hopeless of all human undertakings, apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit. It is this alone that can induce us to continue in the ministry another hour. Without this agency, we must retire in utter despair. But this is not to be conceived of, much less expected, apart from human instrumentality; and man’s earnestness is the very species of instrumentality which the Divine Agent employs. It is not the feeble ministrations of the lukewarm and the negligent, that God blesses for the conversion of souls—but the heart-breathed, fervent wrestlings of the ardent and the diligent. He makes the winds his messengers, and flames of fire his ministers.
There is then a double argument for earnestness, in the difficulties which are to be subdued in the accomplishment of our object, and the necessity of the cooperating agency of the Spirit of God. The former shows the indispensable necessity of such earnestness, and the latter encourages us to put it forth. Without it, we cannot look for the aid of the Spirit; and without the aid of the Spirit, it would be exerted in vain. May we be able to take a right view both of our obstacles and our resources.
III. Consider the aspect of the times, as affecting the human mind, and the objects of our ministry.
The view which has been just given of the difficulties that lie in the way of the faithful minister, applies to all countries and to all times, inasmuch as the depravity of human nature is co-extensive with the race of man. But still there may, and do, exist circumstances to give greater force to these difficulties, in one age and country, which are not found, at any rate to the same amount, in others. The features of our own age are strikingly impressive, and in no small degree hostile to the success of the gospel, and the prevalence of evangelical piety. The sphere of human pursuits, whether we consider the active or speculative departments, is filled with unusual energy and excitement. Earnestness is the characteristic of the age. If we turn our attention to trade, we see men throwing their whole soul into its busy occupations, and laboring as if their salvation in another world depended upon their success on earth. What ardor of competition; what rage for speculation; what looking about for novel schemes, and what eagerness to embrace them when offered; what hazardous and reckless gambling do we see all around us; leaving out the impetus to all this which the railway system has introduced, and saying nothing of the multitudes, who, instead of plodding onward in the beaten path of regular trade, endeavor, by watching the stock market, to make one bound to wealth—how engrossing are the pursuits of secular business, in these days of large returns and small profits. Think of the consumption of time, and the absorption of soul, which are necessary to maintain credit and respectability; and also the strength of religious principle which is indispensable to follow the things that are just, true, honorable, and of good report. How many professors are in danger of being carried away, how many are carried away, by the tricks, artifices, and all but actual dishonesties, of modern trade?
What but a powerful and energetic ministry can be expected to rouse and help God’s professing people to bear up against, and to keep in check, much more to subdue, this sordid and selfish spirit? What can be sufficient but an intense devotedness on the part of ministers to make unseen and eternal things, bear down the usurping power of seen and temporal things? Who but the man that knows how to deal with invisible realities, and to wield the powers of the world to come, can pluck the worldling from the whirlpool of earthly mindedness, which sucks down so many, or prevent the professing Christian from being drawn into it? If our own minds are not much impressed with the solemn glories and terrors of eternity, we cannot speak of these things in such a manner as is likely to rescue our hearers from the ruinous fascinations of Mammon. How we seem to want a Baxter and a Doolittle; an Edwards and a Howe; a Whitfield and a Wesley—to break in with their thunder upon the money-loving, money-grasping spirit of this ungodly age.
Then think of the engrossing power of politics. What a spell has come over the popular mind from this source, since the tremendous outburst of the French revolution. For more than half a century the potency of this subject has been perpetually augmenting, until the rustic in the village, as well as the merchant in the city; the recluse student of the cloister, no less than the man of the exchange, have alike yielded themselves up to the influence of the newspaper, now accommodated, not only to every party in politics—but to every creed in religion, and at the same time cheapened down almost to the poorest member of society. This is matter neither of surprise, nor provided it does not thrust out of consideration other and still more important matters, of regret. It is but the constitution of our country developing the energies of its popular element. The people are claiming their share of power and influence; may they prepare themselves by knowledge and piety to exercise it rightly.
While all this is obvious in the state of modern society, will anyone deny that we need an earnest ministry to break in some degree the spell, and leave the soul at liberty for the affairs of the kingdom which is not of this world? When politics have come upon the minds, hearts, and imaginations of the people, for six days out of the seven, invested with the charms of eloquence, and decked with the colors of party; when the orator and the writer have both thrown the witchery of genius over the soul; how can it be expected that tame, spiritless, vapid common-places from the pulpit, sermons coming neither from the head nor the heart, having neither weight of matter, nor grace of manner; neither genius to compensate for the lack of taste, nor taste to compensate for the lack of genius; and what is still worse, having no unction of evangelical truth, no impress of eternity, no radiance from heaven, no terror from hell—in short, no adaptation to awaken reflection, to produce conviction, or to save the soul; how can it be expected, I say, that such sermons can be useful to accomplish the purposes for which the gospel is to be preached? What chance have such preachers, amid the tumult, to be heard or felt, or what hold have they upon public attention, amid the high excitement of the times in which we live? Their hearers too often feel, that listening to their sermons on the Sabbath, after what they have heard or read during the week, is as if they were turning from brilliant light, to the dim and smoking spark of a candle.
Another characteristic of our age is an ever-growing taste for elegance, refinement, and luxurious gratification. I cannot wonder at this, nor, if it be kept within proper bounds, greatly regret it. It is next to impossible that the progress of art, and the increase of wealth, should not add to the embellishments of life, and multiply the sources of tasteful enjoyment. But just in proportion as we multiply the attractions of earth—is the danger of our making it our all—and leaving heaven out of sight, and learning to do without it. This is now affecting the church, and the hardy and self-denying spirit of our practical Christianity is in danger of being weakened, and of degenerating into a soft and sickly wastefulness. Elegance and extravagance, luxurious entertainments and expensive feasts, are beginning to corrupt the simplicity that is in Christ—and amid sumptuous buildings, gorgeous furniture, costly dress, and mirthful decorations, professors of religion are setting their affections too much upon things upon earth, and turning away from the glory of the cross, to the vanities of the world.
Who is to call them off from this ‘painted pageantry’, and make them by God’s grace feel how vain are all these things? Who can set up a breakwater against the billows of this ocean of worldly-mindedness, and guard the piety of the church from being entirely swept away by a flood of worldliness and ungodliness? Who but a pastor that can speak in power and demonstration of the Spirit, a man who shall rise Sabbath after Sabbath in the pulpit, clothed with a potency to throw into shadow, by his vivid representations of heaven and eternity, all these ‘painted nothings’, on which his hearers are in danger of squandering their immortal souls?
Akin to this is a continually augmenting desire after amusement, for which droves of people are constantly yearning. A love for pleasure, diversion, and recreation, is an ever-increasing appetite—and there are those who are ever ingenious and ever busy to supply its demands. Godliness is no enemy to reasonable enjoyment, even though it be not strictly scriptural; and those who supplant the low and vulgar sensualities on which the multitude have fed, by pleasures more refined and elevated, are doing service to their country and to their species. But still, a taste for amusement, both mental and bodily, may be carried too far, and many foreseeing and deeply reflective minds are of opinion that it is prevailing too far now.
There cannot be a thoughtful mind, if it looks upon our sojourn in this world as a probation for eternity—but must reflect with serious alarm and grief upon the endless devices which are suggested by the wisdom that comes from beneath, to hide from men their duty and their destiny as immortal creatures. It seems as if by common consent, men were striving who should be most successful, by inventing new kinds of diversions, to blot from the mind all considerations of eternity.
Pleasure-taking is the taste of the day, a taste which has been increased into an appetite by the facilities for traveling afforded by railways. Before its desolating influence, the sanctity of the Sabbath, and with it of course the prevalence of godliness, are likely to be destroyed. It may be said that anything is better than the ale-house and the gin-shop. This is freely admitted—but it may be questioned whether some of the modern stimulants to pleasure do not lead to, and not from, those scenes of iniquity. The people, it is affirmed, must have recreation. Be it so—but let it be of a healthful kind, and let the great aim of all who have any influence upon the public mind be to endeavor to implant a taste for the recreations afforded by cheap and wholesome literature, by quiet home enjoyments, and, above all, by the sacred delights of true piety.
In connection with this may be mentioned, as one particular species of amusement, the taste for works of humor, which has much increased in this country within the last ten years. There is no sin in mirth; man is made to enjoy
it, and there is a time to laugh as well as to weep. And he must be a very people-hater, a vampire which in the dark night of sorrow would suck the last drop of happiness from the human sufferer, who would forbid the smiles of gladness, and everything which ministers to the gratification of the laughter- loving heart. But it is a different thing from this, to wish to keep this propensity within due bounds, to prevent it from becoming the staple of life, and to remind men that they have other things to do in this world than to laugh and be merry.
Vaughan says, “A fondness for grotesque jokes and everlasting caricature, bears as little resemblance to manly feeling, as the ecstasies of a young lady over the last new novel. Truth is a grave matter, and can owe little ultimately to the services of a buffoon. It loses half its dignity, if often presented in association with the ridiculous. Those who find their chief pleasure in broad farce, are rarely capable of a due exercise of earnest and reverential feeling. Your great wits do not spare their best friends, and your votaries of fun are generally people prepared to sacrifice anything to their god. The mind which is accustomed to pay much homage to the laughers, too often forgets to pay a real homage to anything higher. In such a service, the fine edge of moral feeling is almost of necessity worn away. Not that we should send a man to the gallows because he has indulged a laugh. On the contrary, the man who cannot so indulge is not a man to our liking. There is something wrong in him, physically, mentally, and morally. All truly healthful men, in the spiritual as well as in the natural sense, know how to enjoy their laugh. But your great laughers are generally slow workers. To make a merriment of folly is not to displace it by wisdom. Our proper business here is neither to grin nor to whine—but to be men. We say not that good may never be done by means of ridicule—but we are convinced that its general effect is such as we have ventured to indicate.”
These are wise and true sayings, as seasonable as they are important, and called for by the excessive taste for that species of composition which now prevails. If anything need be added in corroboration of these arguments it is the fact stated by the justly lamented Dr. Arnold, that since the publication of periodical works of humor, he had perceived a visible declension of manly sentiment and serious thoughtfulness among the elder boys of his school. This is strong and decisive testimony as to the influence of a continued indulgence in broad farce. Is there not precisely the same effect produced on the minds of our young men? Nothing can be more opposed to the serious spirit which true godliness requires, or more destructive of it, than this constant supply of new materials for laughter. Nor does the mischief stop with the young and the worldly, it is infecting the professors of religion. It is hard to conceive how earnestness and spirituality can be maintained by those whose tables are covered, and whose leisure time is consumed, by the bewitching inspirations of the ‘god of laughter’. There is little hope of our arresting the evil, except we make it our great business to raise up a ministry who shall not themselves be carried away with the torrent; who shall be grave, without being gloomy; serious, without being melancholy; and who, on the other hand, shall be cheerful without being frivolous, and whose chastened mirthfulness shall check, or at any rate reprove, the excesses of their companions.
What a demand does this state of things prefer for the most intense earnestness in our Sabbath-day exercises, both our prayers and our sermons. In this modern taste we have a new obstacle to our usefulness of a most formidable kind, which can be subdued only by God’s blessing upon our fidelity and zeal. Men are needed, who shall by their learning, science, and general knowledge, give weight to their opinions, and influence to their advice, in their private communion with their flocks; and shall, by their powerful and evangelical preaching, control this taste, and counteract it by a better.
Nor must I omit to notice, and to notice with peculiar emphasis, the impetus that is now given to the human understanding through all its gradations, from the highest order of intellect down to the humblest classes of the laboring population. I have already alluded to this subject—but on account of its importance must here refer to it again, and a little more at length. As regards the laboring classes, education is advancing among them with rapid strides. The poor must, and will, be instructed. The change of opinion on this subject that has come over a large portion of the community within the last quarter of a century, is indeed marvelous; and instead of tirades upon the danger of educating the people, we now hear from the same people, diatribes upon the evils of ignorance. This is a happy change, and its results will be auspicious—but they will not be without some temporary admixture of evil. It is really refreshing to read the schemes which are now put forth for the education of the working classes, by all parties in religion and politics. And improvement in education is not confined, and cannot be confined, to the lower classes. The ‘universal mind’ is awakened, and in motion onwards—it is in a state of intense excitement and irrepressible activity. Discoveries in science, and inventions in art, come so fast upon us, that we have scarcely recovered from the surprise produced by one, before another calls upon us to indulge in new wonder. Feats of human skill, especially in the department of engineering, are performed or projected, which make man, in the pride of his intellect, feel as if nothing was impossible to him.
As might be expected, knowledge is flowing, by the thousand rills of the press and cheap books, through every department of society. The annual expenditure of millions in cheap literature shows to what extent information on all subjects is reaching all classes from workmen upwards. Knowledge is the great idol around which the multitudes are gathering to pay their homage and record their vows. Is there anything in such a state of things at which the friends of godliness should take alarm? Quite the contrary. Christianity began her career, as every novice in history well knows, in the most enlightened age, and among the most polished nations of antiquity; and has never from that moment to the present, shrunk from the day-light of learning and science, to skulk in the darkness and gloom of barbaric ignorance; and its ministers should ever be foremost as the patrons of knowledge.
But it is evident that such a state of things requires their indomitable earnestness in the sacred duties of their calling, to secure for godliness its due pre-eminence amid all the various claimants upon the public attention. Allowing to general knowledge all the importance that is claimed for it, it is not, apart from godliness, a ‘universal remedy’, which can heal the disorders, and restore the moral health of diseased humanity. There are some who dream (and all history proves it to be but a dream), of repairing the moral disorders of the world, by the principles of reason and the aid of secular education. They think they can regulate society without godliness, and renew the heart of man without God. We might ask them what philosophy did for such purposes in Egypt its cradle, or in Greece its temple? They forget that by the permission of Providence a grand experiment was made in the latter country, during the five centuries next preceding the Christian era, by the sages of its schools, to see what knowledge, apart from Divine revelation, could do to reform the moral world, and make it virtuous and happy. We venture to call for the result, and if the advocates of ‘human reason’ refuse to give it, an apostle shall supply the answer—”The world by wisdom knew not God.” Still more in point is his testimony in Romans 1:28- 32.
It would seem as if, not satisfied with a single demonstration, our modern philosophers were hazarding a second trial. Again with still greater advantages, and with still greater confidence, they are flocking to the ordeal. Education is to be improved and extended; the press is pouring forth its cheap literature; science is broken down to such fragments, and measured out in such drops as even children’s minds can receive and digest; and every appliance is to be furnished to give effect to the knowledge thus communicated; lecturers on all subjects are traveling through the country, and pouring forth streams of information in every direction; while rational and invigorating amusements are to come in to aid the general improvement. Those who believe in the sufficiency of knowledge alone to “improve the taste and raise the morals of the nation”, indulge in the largest expectations that society will be morally reformed by these laborious efforts. But, without a prophet’s eye, we may predict they are doomed to certain and bitter disappointment. We may confidently anticipate that the second experiment will have the same result as the first, and prove not only that the world by wisdom will never know God—but that nothing less than ‘the foolishness of preaching’ will achieve its moral reformation. The state of our popular literature, as molded to a considerable extent by these men, proves that the experiment of teaching mankind to do without godliness, is going on.
In much of what is read by the masses, there is unconcealed hostility to Christianity. Infidelity of the boldest and most daring kind is availing itself of many of the cheap publications of the day, with an energy and a success that would astound as well as alarm those who are not in the secret. But still many guides of the popular mind, perhaps most of them, would not patronize this open assault upon the foundations of our faith—they go a more insidious, though scarcely a less injurious way to work. They act upon the principle that the best way to attack godliness, and the least likely to shock prejudice and excite alarm, is to say nothing about it, to treat the whole subject as a negation, a nonentity, a thing to be forgotten, with which it is no part of their business to concern themselves, and which may be left to float quietly to the gulf of oblivion. In many cases false principles on the subject of revealed religion, are worked into the staple of scientific books, and many readers are made infidels almost before they are aware of the dreadful perversion. All that it is thought necessary to provide for the millions, in the way of reading, is amusement and general knowledge—and to a very great extent the object is accomplished. The laboring classes, with increasing knowledge, are more and more alienated from godliness. The masses are not won to Christianity—but sullenly stand aloof from it, doubting whether it deserves their attention.
In such a state of things, what kind of ministry is it that is needed? The answer is easy—men of earnestness; of earnest intellects, earnest hearts, earnest preaching, and earnest faith. Men whose understanding shall command respect, whose manner shall conciliate affection, and whose ministrations shall attract by their beauty, and command by their power. The accessibility of the laboring classes gives us an advantage in approaching them; neither prejudice nor fashion bars us out from them. We have neither to scale the walls of bigotry, nor to silence or evade the dogs of angry intolerance—the door is open, and we may walk in. But we must be men of the age, men who understand it; and who know how to avail ourselves of its advantages, and to surmount its difficulties. But I cannot do better here than refer to an admirable article on ‘the Modern Pulpit’, the following extract from which is to the point.
“What is good preaching? Alas, how many answers would be given to this question. And yet is not the true answer—the preaching by which souls are saved? Then, the best preaching must be that by which the greatest number of souls are saved. In order to that end, however, men must be brought within the sphere of the pulpit; and to bring the greatest number of men within that sphere is the design of Dr. Vaughan in his treatise, and it is ours. In one word, what we specifically lack in the modern pulpit is, ‘adaptation’. Now we have read a good deal in our time, not more than enough, of the necessity of adapting the efforts of the pulpit to the constitution of the human mind, to man’s moral nature, to his actual condition as fallen, guilty, wretched, and exposed to future punishment. And not seldom have we read most seasonable injunctions, addressed to our young ministers, on the personal adaptation of their discourses to the condition of individual men. All this we regard as of equal importance at all times, and in all conceivable circumstances. But at present our aim is to excite as much attention as we can to the truth, that along with these general and fixed adaptations, there is required a constantly varying adaptation to the constantly progressive changes of society.”
The writer then goes on to explain what he means by this varying adaptation of the pulpit to the advancement in society, in reference to one portion of it, the working classes. “Education is raising these great masses of the community into higher degrees of intellectual culture. New powers are at work. Incredible facilities are multiplied for diffusing knowledge, spreading opinions, and increasing the number of thinkers. Now in such an age, to say nothing of other views of society, it is obviously the duty of evangelical preachers to adapt themselves to the circumstances in which they are placed; not by withdrawing from the pulpit the great themes of the gospel, and substituting for them philosophic truth, or a rationalized gospel; but by such a general line of conduct with reference to the circumstances of a growingly enlightened age, and such a strain of preaching as shall lay hold of the public mind, and bring it under that doctrine, which, and which only, is the power of God unto salvation. Let there be a just estimate formed, and which to be just cannot be a low one, of the mental powers of the common people; a judicious and hearty sympathy with their real needs and reasonable wishes; a studious consideration of the means by which the multitude shall be brought back to the sanctuaries of godliness, which they have to a considerable extent deserted; an assiduous endeavor to connect the functions of the pastor with the literary cultivation of the people. For these purposes let there be correct information of their state of intellect, their prevailing habits, their peculiar temptations, their literary tendencies and aspirations, as to the books they read; let there be all this—but then let it be only as so much power put forth to bring these masses under the influence of the gospel. Oh, it were a noble triumph of the modern pulpit, to see men of strong principle, and self- controlling wisdom, gathering round them the most boisterous elements of our social atmosphere, conducting the lightnings with which its darkest thunder- clouds are charged, and showing to the nation they have saved, that the preaching of the cross is still the ‘Power of God.'”
Of course such an enterprise of home-evangelization will require that our ministers shall be men of action. Adaptation, then, there may be, and should be, in the sermons and the general habits of the ministry, to the age in which they live, in the way of laying hold of public attention, widening the sphere of their action, and adding to their influence as preachers of the cross. Stronger intelligence, profounder thinking, more logical argumentation, more varied illustration, more lively composition, more refined sentiment, more genuine philosophy, may be required in this, than in some preceding ages; but all must be in harmony with the simplicity that is in Christ, and must appear only so much added to the height or ornaments of a pedestal which is to exalt the Savior, and not to exhibit an idol, however beautiful, in his place.
Having referred to the state of public opinion and feeling with reference to godliness among the lower classes, it may not be amiss to glance at the higher and more educated portions of the community. Many of these are moving in two lines, or in a stream that divides into two channels; and flows in two diverging directions; the devout and imaginative going off to ‘ritualism’, and a large part of the rest to ‘philosophical infidelity’. Many of our men of letters have adopted a loose, unsystematized theism, which is in some cases a new edition of the opinions of our English deists of the last century; and in another, and a still more numerous class, bears a strong affinity to the pantheistic or mystic theory of the German philosophy. The disposition of modern science, in some of its more illustrious votaries, is to retire from revealed religion, as if ashamed to be seen in its company.
It is indeed a melancholy spectacle to witness such a man as Humboldt, whose eye has seen so much of the visible universe, and whose pen has recorded so ably the researches of his vast genius; whose intellect seemed formed by the Creator—not only to study his works but to proclaim his glories—send forth such a work as “Kosmos,” and in that work declare it was no part of his business to trace the wonders he describes, to their still more wondrous Author. How deeply painful to see this high priest of nature officiating with such zeal and devotion at the shrine of matter, and yet never throwing one grain of incense on the altar of the Infinite Mind who made the worlds. Yet this is only a specimen of other similar cases. Alas, alas, that such a mind should be so warped by the modes of thinking prevalent among his countrymen, and should have sent forth perhaps his last gift to the lovers of science, with the atheistic pantheism too obviously interwoven in it.
In such a view of the state and tendency of educated minds in this age, I see an additional argument for an earnest, and at the same time intelligent and educated ministry. We need men, and we are not without them already, who can enter the lists and do battle with the seductive and dangerous forms of error that have done such mischief on the continent of Europe, and are likely, without great vigilance and stout resistance, to repeat the mischief here also. The spirit of this atheistic philosophy is at the present moment widely diffusing itself through the English and American mind. Education will no longer be confined to literature and natural science. A disposition and determination are formed to explore the ‘world of mind’, as well as that of matter, and to give to subjective studies a place, and that a very high one, perhaps above the objective ones.
Psychology is now the favorite pursuit of great multitudes of reflective intellects, and will be still more so. The mind of Germany is operating with power and success upon the mind of England, to an extent which is surprising, and in some views of the case alarming. It is, one would think, impossible to trace the progress of transcendentalism, and to see how, as it diverged more and more widely from the metaphysics of our own land, it has associated itself with rationalism in theology, and led on to pantheism in philosophy—and not feel some apprehension for the result of its introduction to this country.
Perhaps the ‘practical character of the English mind’ will be one of our safeguards against a system which to the great multitude must ever remain a matter of mere scientific speculation. It may, however be feared that some of our young ministers, and our students in theology, especially those of speculative habits, captivated by the daring boldness, the intellectual vigor, and the theoretic attractions of the great German philosophers, may too adventurously launch forth on this dangerous ocean, and make shipwreck of their doctrinal simplicity, and practical usefulness. Let them be assured that neither the transcendentalism of Kant, nor the eclecticism of Cousin, is a safe guide for men who would be useful in saving souls. The warning voice has already been lifted up in high places on the other side of the Atlantic, where German philosophy was likely at one time to be received with avidity; and there will not be lacking voices to utter words of warning in this country also. It would not only be useless—but unwise to treat this, or any other system of philosophy, as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which the command of God, and the flaming sword of the cherubim forbid us to approach—this, as well as every other object of human inquiry, may be studied, and by a cautious and discriminating mind, may be studied with advantage. I would by no means contend that there is nothing in the industry of German investigation, in its method of analysis, in its habit of considering everything subjectively; or even in the systems which are the fruits of its researches, which may not be borrowed with advantage by ourselves; but I must raise my voice in emphatic protest against what I see manifested by some in this country—the willing and entire surrender of the understanding to a school, the masters of which have left us no gospel but a fable, and no God but Nature.
A work has lately made its appearance, which is likely to be extensively circulated among those who have any taste for philosophical studies, or any wish to become acquainted with German literature, and which cannot fail to command attention, and will certainly secure for its accomplished author the admiration and respect of his readers; I mean the “History of Modern Philosophy,” by the Rev. J. D. Morell. It is impossible to deny that this gentleman unites to fidelity as an historian, the impartiality and candor of a true philosopher, and great ability as a writer. It is on some accounts a happy circumstance that such a subject has fallen into his hands, since Mr. Morell’s attachment to evangelical truth, will
qualify him, I trust, to be a safe pilot for the English mind through the perilous seas he has undertaken to navigate. It may be hoped that his own attachment to the subjective system of philosophy will not lead his ardent readers and admirers to go further in that direction than his own discriminating and well-balanced mind would wish or approve; and I am quite sure that he would join with many, who are perhaps more apprehensive than he, is of the influence of German philosophy, in the opinion, that no more direct way can be taken by our young ministers to hinder their usefulness, than to allow such studies to obscure the simplicity of their thinking, or to deaden the energy of their manner, as preachers of the gospel; and I hope that he would also most emphatically say, “Beware lest any man spoil you (as preachers) through philosophy and vain deceit.
“What we need is, that the very system of doctrine which we now have, shall come to us not in word only—but in power. As things stand at present, our creeds and confessions have become effete, and the Bible a dead letter—and that orthodoxy which was at one time the glory of our churches, by withering into the inert and lifeless, is now the shame and the reproach of all our churches.” (Chalmers)
Surely nothing more need be said to show and prove what kind of men are needed for such an age, and to indicate that for times of such excitement, we must have ministers of strong intelligence, simple faith, and entire devotedness. It is, in every view we can take of it, an earnest age, and earnest men alone can at such a time do anything anywhere, and least of all in the pulpit. Events, with trumpet-call, summon us to our post, with every faculty awake, and every energy engaged. Amid the din of business, of politics, of science, and of fashion; amid the jests of laughers, the eloquence of orators, and the clamor of politics—the voice of the preacher will not be heard, unless he speaks loudly. Nor shall he be listened to, unless he speaks earnestly and intelligently. We shall gain no heed for our holy religion—unless we put forth all our strength; it will be pushed aside, overborne, trampled down in the jostling crowd—if we do not exert our mightiest energies to bear it up, and to make way for it through the throng and the strife of earnest secularities.
Let us not deceive ourselves by substituting anything else for this. It may be all very well and proper in its place to keep pace with the times in which we live as regards other matters; in classical, mathematical, and philosophical literature, in academic degrees, in tasteful architecture; but these things, in the absence of a living power of intense devotedness, will be but as flowers to shed their fragrance upon our grave, or as sculpture to decorate our tomb.