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be disposed to exclude in toto, as unfit for sermons from the pulpit, it would unquestionably be moral duties. We do not, however, go so far as to say, that any thing which the book of God contains is not proper to be discoursed of in the pulpit; but, if we are obliged to institute comparisons between degrees of importance where all are important, then we say, that the details of moral duties, and of domestic and of social life, are more fit for private than for public instruction. If the proof of this position is sought in the fact, it will be easy to shew that moral duties are enforced with far greater power of eloquence by many of that body of the clergy commonly called Worldly, than by those called Evangelical; and the evident want of effect no one will call in question.
But since the observance of all moral duties may be as perfectly performed by men who are not Christians as by those who are-as, for example, the Brahmins-it follows, that the internal principle is that which alone constitutes the essential distinction between a Christian and another man. This principle is the love of the True God. But the True God is invisible, and has revealed Himself in Word, and manifested Himself in flesh : and, consequently, it is only as this revelation and this manifestation are studied that the True God is known ; and, consequently, only so far that the True God is loved. Now, it is very possible that there may be a great deal of observance of moral duty, and a considerable degree of knowledge of doctrinal religion, and of sentimental love of the Creator, combined with an unsubdued hatred of the True God: and hence it is that we see how every additional development of the character of the True God confers such pleasure on some, and stirs up such malignity in other professors.
It will be maintained, that the preachers who confine themselves to the lowest walk of theology produce as many truly spiritual hearers as others who take higher flights. To this it is to be answered, that, as less of God's character is unfolded, the hostility of the natural man to that character has less opportunity of being manifested: that, therefore, there may be a great apparent increase of approvers, who are, in fact, only in accordance with the words of their preacher, but not with the ideas which he attaches to those words. Moreover, the true state of men's hearts will never be known until the secrets of all are revealed; and, at all events, this is a day of too much advantage for religious profession to make us very confident of its ability to abide much sifting.
Making all necessary deductions, however, on these two grounds, we may still admit that many souls are really converted to God by the ministrations of the pulpit such as they are, and yet those souls remain but babes during the whole of their sojourn here below. This effect would necessarily follow the bare reiteration of the same elementary truths, sermon after sermon, sabbath after sabbath, without either preacher or hearers advancing one single step in the knowledge of God. Mr. Davison, in the introduction to his work on Prophecy, observes on the power of the cumulative force of a multitude of small particulars. This principle is well stated in the following extract from the work of a physician of the present day, most learned in every department of his art, and one of the most amiable of men :
“ It is so well known that the mind may brood over a subject till it loses the power of seeing it in a right point of view, that it is commonly said a man may tell a lie till he believes it. * I wish,' said Dr. Johnson, rebuking Boswell for the zeal into which he had worked himself about the history of Corsica,-I wish there were some cure like the lover's leap for heads of which some single idea has obtained possession.' Objects which have had frequent access to the mind seem to have a double power over it.... This is the case, not only with the objects of fancy, but with propositions which appeal to the understanding. An opinion produces effect, partly in proportion to the manifest proof which it contains, partly to the frequency with which it has been presented to the mind. This is capable of incalculable accumulation, till at length the object produces an effect and gains a power over the individual totally different from what it possesses over one less frequently impressed by it. Objects by repetition lose their power over the senses, for the senses have no memory; while they incalculably augment it over the understanding and the affections. It is on this principle that so many trifles acquire an influence over us so disproportionate to their importance; that with the generality of mankind opinions owe their power more to habit than to evidence; that an old song, however bad, pleases more than a new, however good; that a wag tickles those who are accustomed to him more than those who are not; that the ploughman prefers his coarse and awkward mistress to the loveliest lady of the land ; that the constant dropping of daily circumstances on the character wears in it deeper channels than the transient torrents of persuasion.”—Gooch.
This is exactly the case with the majority of Christians of the present day : their “opinions owe their power more to habit than to evidence. And hence two consequences flow : the one is, that scarcely any man of ordinary capacity is converted by our evangelical preachers; and, secondly, that Christians have no soundness, no root, no durability, that can stand any assault of Satan, whether by the introduction of heresy, the rise of persecution, or the assault of infidelity. We do not deny that there are some men of great powers of mind, in the present day, who are really Christians; but every instance of conversion among them, of which we have any authentic account, was produced by the Holy Ghost leading them through a course of private meditation, and not by the instrumentality of pulpit preaching.
Various reasons have been assigned in the magazines for the miserably low state of theology which modern sermons present; and which it is not necessary to enumerate, because they are all inadequate to account for the phenomenon to explain which they are adduced. We therefore proceed to set forth our own opinion upon the matter, which differs from them all; but which we think will furnish an abundantly sufficient solution for all that is complained of. We think, then, that ministers in general entirely and fundamentally err in their idea of what is their proper business--and we are now speaking of the highest order of them ; of men far above the temptations of avarice, fame, or vanity; and who are most truly anxious to perform their duty. We hold that the first duty of a pastor is honestly to declare to the people all that he believes to be the truth of God; and the second point to be, to place that truth before his auditory with such perspicuity, line upon line, and precept upon precept, as to make it impossible for the people not to understand the idea he means to convey: Now the leading notion in the generality of ministers is, that it should be their first aiin to convert souls ; and secondly, to state the truth in such a way that no one in their congregation shall be offended, and leave off in consequence attending the services of the church. Whoever has read the writings of Adams and Cecil, will remember that this was the main-spring of all their motions : in the first, it led to the most painful self-reproach and dejection of spirit; in the second, to a scandalous concealment of the truth from his congregation, and bitter repentance on his death-bed.
The essential characteristic of Christianity, that which distinguishes the Christian Religion from every other creed under heaven, is, that it is VICARIOUS: the punishment of the sinner is vicarious; the merit which conducts him to glory is vicarious. Many other creeds contain intercessors and mediators; and all unite in one point, be they Deists, Heathens, Bûdhists, Papists, Socinians, Mohammedans, &c. &c., which is, that by some means or other their future state is dependent upon the personal merit or demerit of the individual. It is hardly possible that any persons, who have the power of reflection at all, should not know that it is one of the most difficult things to make men receive ideas by any form of words or expressions whatever : on which account it should be the constant labour of the minister to make himself understood. The power which demagogues possess over the people depends altogether upon their faculty for making the ideas intelligible which they wish to impress upon
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them. Observe the manner in wbich the late Lord (when Mr.) Erskine, and Mr. Fox, laboured to express themselves with perspicuity. Oh, if ministers of Christ's kingdom were half as earnest and as pains-taking to make the people understand the details of his kingdom and government, as the politicians of this dispensation are to explain the mysteries of the rule of this dispensation, what a different aspect would the church soon assume !
There are in this land thousands and millions of individuals, who use the words of the Liturgy, and subscribe to the Assembly's Catechism and the Westminster Confession, who do not believe one of the essential truths contained in these formularies, and who are yet perfectly conscientious in thinking that they subscribe to them ex animo. Whitefield observes, that when he says in the reading-desk, in the Lesson of the day, “ Many are called, but few are chosen,” nobody objects to it; but when he expresses precisely the identical truth in the pulpit, an outcry is raised against him, as if he had broached some unheard-of heresy. On the same principle we find Cowper's Poems read and admired by persons who disagree with every iota of his theology, and who certainly would never read them if they understood the creed he so beautifully expresses. Nay, the very clergy themselves do not understand their own Liturgy, nor the Lessons which they read from the Scripture, as is proved by their almost invariably laying the accents on the wrong words.
We can illustrate this subject by three examples taken from nearer home. We happened lately to be present at Guildford, at a meeting of the Surrey Auxiliary Jews Society: among other persons, Mr. Irving attended. It was during the sitting of the quarter sessions for the county, and the town was full of lawyers. As soon as Mr. Irving began to speak, several of them left the court, and came to the meeting to hear him. His line of argument was to shew our duty in preaching the Gospel to the Jews, with special reference to those national promises which were not to be fulfilled in this dispensation, but in the next, when the Lord should return to the earth. One of those lawyers could scarcely be induced to believe that he had heard aright, when Mr. Irving had said that the Lord was to return again to the earth; for, be it observed, neither the period nor the mode of the return was debated, but the fact of a return at some time: aud though the person who was so surprised is an able and very intelligent member of his profession, and a very regular frequenter of the church, and observes family devotion in his house, and consequently must be often in the habit of saying the words “ I believe that he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead,” it is obvious that the idea of the return of the Lord to this earth, ever, and at any time, was perfectly new to him.
The next example shall be from this journal. No opinion respecting the mediocrity of modern theology has been expressed by us, that has not been put forth by some of our contemporaries also; but we are conscious that our expressions will give an offence that theirs have not given; and for this plain reason, that we produce impression by making ourselves intelligible, which they have not done: for if they have written a clear sentence in one place, they have written a contrary opinion in some other place, and thus the truth has been neutralized. For this reason also we have found the excellent work of Mr. Riland, on the present state of the religious world*, vehemently censured, although it contains little that might not be found in other, but less intelligible and more contradictory, pamphlets. Many illustrations of this might be found. The Christian Observer says that there is nothing which Mr. Irving has described in his sermons on “ The Last Days," as characteristic of the present state of the religious world, but what has been often reiterated in that journal; fragments of which it adduces in proof of the justice of its remark. This is not to be disputed; but, then, these descriptions have been so diluted by the mixture of contradictory matter that they have produced no effect. And, since the Christian Observer has said the same thing itself, it is marvellous that it should censure its own opinions when echoed by Mr. Irving
In like manner, Cobbett has made known the advantages of the acacia tree: he has said nothing new, but only that which has been often repeated before. Some wise men have denied his merit, because they can find all that he says in Miller's Gardener's Dictionary, published above 100 years previously. His defence is complete: he replies, “This is all very true, gentlemen ; but how comes it to pass, then, that you never planted these trees as a source of profit from what you read in Miller, and that you never thought of doing such a thing till I wrote about it?”.
Our third example is from two Reverend Doctors, who shall be nameless; one of whom preached for a while at Brighton, and the other is actually located in a chapel in London. By an application of terms, which they of course call judicious, and we call artful and dishonest, they contrive to keep their chapels full; and among their auditory are to be found Calvinists, ready to bristle up for every one of the five points ; Arminians, straining after perfection in the flesh; and worldly people (and of considerable acuteness of intellect too, as their published works shew), who absolutely deny the root of the Christian scheme, and who maintain that they never hear from their minister any thing to which they do not cordially agree. This is effected by the use of conventional terms, not one of which is ever defined : and
* Antichrist; Papal, Protestant, and Infidel : an Estimate of the Religion of the Times.