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that one reason of scanty attendance may be that Sermons very often are not what they ought to be, in respect of internal excellence or adaptation to the people's wants. Persons whom I can trust tell me that, in their wanderings, they light, not unfrequently, on very bad ones; and in spite of modern improvements, - with stricter Examinations, a much higher standard of ministerial character, and a great increase in the number of faithful and diligent Pastors,—the proportion of very common-place weekly exhortations, I fear, is still very large.
The course of public events, I think, must have an important influence in correcting this evil; or if it be perpetuated, the Church of England will sink fearfully and rapidly in public estimation. Proved fitness up to a certain point, it seems, is to be certified respecting men who aspire to serve the State even in subordinate posts. The test of examination, doubtless, will soon be rigidly applied to ascertain whether a Candidate has the minimum of knowledge and capacity without which some of his duties will be surely ill done. The minimum of qualification in a Religious Teacher, certainly, must be the power of explaining and enforcing a text in such style that critical hearers shall not be offended, and common hearers may be instructed and edified. That minimum, as things are, it is notorious that many Bishops' Chaplains do not require; and so men are passed into the Church, (largely, I fear,) who are in no sense apt to teach. Surely when the proposed Reforms in the Civil Service are carried out, at least so far as to have every Exciseman and Treasury Clerk fairly tested before he is employed, grumbling hearers and a curious Public will begin to inquire whether an ordeal could not be devised which should prevent or postpone the Ordination of gentlemen who have not yet acquired the art of writing what it is pleasant or profitable to hear.
Whether the composition of a Sermon now forms a regular part of the Examination for Deacons' Orders, I do not know. I do know that, when I was ordained, I wrote neither a Sermon, nor the skeleton of a Sermon, and was somewhat surprised, and almost ashamed, when my trial was over, to have passed so easily. Things are mended a good deal since; and now in many Dioceses, I believe, it is expected that Candidates should write a Sermon of some sort, or a brief Exposition of some selected portion of Scripture. But not yet is a decently good Sermon exacted; for if men could produce one before Ordination, of course they would have the same gift afterwards; and many Parishes find to their cost that the well-bred gentleman, the kind familiar visitor, or even the conscientious, pains-taking Minister of Religion, has not yet attained the art of writing clearly and forcibly what he delivers to them for their Sunday lesson.
The question of Education for the Ministry is a
very wide one, on which I do not enter. Where and how the absolute want of Professional training, which so unhappily characterizes the Church of England, may be best supplied, let wiser men decide, and decide quickly. I do but give expression (at some hazard, I know) to a feeling which is shared by many of the best friends of the Church among the Laity, and which finds vent in the oftrepeated question, “ Why do the Bishops ordain such men? Surely, whatever else is hidden or uncertain, there is a very simple process by which a man's power of writing English may be ascertained. We do not expect young Clergymen, all of them, to be close reasoners, profound theologians, or eloquent orators; we hate every thing like show in the Pulpit; but in a Church, whose Clergy profess to be educated gentlemen, we think we have a right to good plain sense and some coherence of argument, with a range of thought, and a force or aptness of expression, beyond the level of common School Exercises, and in spite of all we hear about stricter Examinations, and all we know of greatly improved Clerical habits, we do meet, in our travels, with men, under thirty, in whom these slender qualifications are wanting. Duty or pleasure calls us to places where we must take what is given us; and the Prayers, of course, are a weekly treat; but the Sermon, to tell the plain truth, is a weekly annoyance.” I do not know whether such complaints reach high places; but I can answer
for it that they are freely and largely uttered; and in this searching and plain-speaking age it will not be safe much longer to disregard them.
I leave untouched the very important question how a higher order of talent is to be secured for Town Congregations, and by what machinery men eminently fitted for public posts may be promoted to them, without undue interference with the rights of Patrons. I take the lowest ground as the safest; and contend for a principle which I think it will be difficult to dispute. The remedy is in the hands of the Bishops. Let them give out publicly that every man, before he is advanced to the lowest grade of the Ministry, shall prove that he knows his Bible well, and can write a fairly good English style; and very soon men who want Curacies, or who have livings in prospect, will come up to the proposed standard.
If the supply of Candidates should fail, the next step may seem a bold one, but at all hazards it should be taken. Throw down some of your barriers, and let the Ministry be open to men who have these essential qualifications, though others of a secondary kind are wanting. It is ten times more important that a Preacher should be able to win attention or command respect, than that he should be a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge. If it chances that men, thus distinguished, can often write English about as well as they can write Latin,—that is, grammatically and no more,-then why make so much of the degree? It is poor con
solation to the Village audience who cannot understand their Minister, or to the Town critics who think meanly of him, to be told that he is a Bachelor or Master of Arts, and spent some years of his life in Halls of Learning. At any rate, if the possible lack of University men to take Curacies, and unwillingness to employ non-Graduates duly qualified in all other respects, be the real hindrances in the way of a more searching test, let this be frankly stated and openly proclaimed. When this is done, I think I can anticipate the public verdict. A Degree ought to be a pledge to the world, men will say, of scholar-like accomplishinents; but if numbers have the badge without the reality, do not let us perpetuate old abuses for their sakes. The well-born must supply their deficiencies by subsequent study; or the Old Schools of Science should bestir themselves, and teach Divinity in reality, and not in pretence ;-any thing better than inflicting incompetent men on suffering Congregations, and, at the same time, turning away from the Ministry, by wholesale, men of higher merit, though of humbler fortunes.
Our Countrymen have been very patient hitherto. They have not protested publicly, nor demanded a Veto like our sturdier brethren of the North. But quietly the evil has worked in a thousand Parishes, while men, who were not content to slumber in our Churches, have built Chapels, and sought Teachers, of their own. Now, whatever else is left undone, -whether Convocation acts or sleeps, -whether