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THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST.
ignorant and destitute, the most happy results might be anticipated in the character of their public discourses.
3. A departure from the plain, experimental and faithful preaching of the Divine testimony, is an evil of no common magnitude, which it is incumbent on all who desire the spread of the truth, most carefully to avoid. "To the poor is the Gospel preached." The greater part of the obedient hearers of the Gospel has ever been constituted of the unlettered and poor. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things often choke the . word preached to the rich and learned, so that it becometh unfruitful: hence if a pastor desire success from his labours lie must seek it principally among the poor of his flock. "God has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." But, " if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who can prepare himself to the battle? So, likewise, ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air," 1 Cor. xiv. 18,19.
Nor is it only by using improper words, but also by adopting a train of metaphysical and abstract ideas, that some depart from the plain preaching of the gospel. I am aware it is said, that our congregations are now better informed than formerly; that elevated language and a philosophical turn of thought are requisite to raise the character of the pulpit, and win the attention of men of taste; but will these expedients renew the heart or affect the conscience? Will they not rather foster reasoning pride, and destroy the edge of Divine truth? Those who think differently on this subject would do well to consult the apostolic example, 1 Cor. ii. 13, and reconcile their purpose with that of Paul, who determined " not to preach with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should become of no effect."
There are some truths which may be regarded as the life-blood of the Christian system, and the vade-mecum of the believer., Among these I should reckon the testimony which God hath given of his Son, the free and everlasting love of God in our redemption, the atonement and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfection of his work, the efficacy of . "is grace, his priestly and mediatorial
offices, &c; these are parts of that hidden manna, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, maintains the Divine life and the soul of the believer. Faith in these precious doctrines, like the magnetic needle, will ever point the soul to Christ. In the various trials of our heaven-ward pilgrimage, in alternations of hopes and tears, in outward calamities and spiritual conflicts, we daily need to feed on these animating truths. But if a cold, shallow orthodoxy should prevail among us; if the internal warfare of the believer be no more an object of ministerial attention; if Religion cease to be represented as an inward principle, and the doctrines of the Gospel come to be mutilated or dispensed with indifference and formality, a mournful dearth and declension of pure and undented Religion will inevitably follow.
Unfaithfulness in explaining any part of Divine revelation is intimately connected with a defect in experimental preaching; and here I cannot forbear to notice the importance of strictly adhering to a faithful representation of the fall of man and its awful consequences. The Scriptures afford the most explicit testimony to the universality and extent of human depravity, Rom. iii. 9—20, Gen. vi. 5, Matt. xv. 19, Rom. viii. 7. A person's manner of life, the influence of example, parental restraint, public opinion, or other circumstances may go far to restrain the commission of acts of open immorality; yet, in many instances, it is to be feared, mental and secret iniquities are cherished, which not being attended by the scandal of public infamy or regarded as acts of open rebellion against the claims of Jehovah, become the unhappy means of stifling the voice of conscience and of deluding many in the estimate they form of their own character and condition. It is, therefore, necessary that the various refuges of lies should be exposed; that the deceitfulness and corruption of the human heart, the sins of the mind, and especially, that prevalent one, covetousness, should be exposed and urged on the conscience in connection with the extent and spirituality of the Divine law, and the helpless, condemned state of fallen man. Nor is it less desirable that Christian duties should be enforced with the greatest fidelity, that all approaches to formality, worldliness and a departure from the ordinances of the Gospel should be deprecated and avoided, and that the claims of Jesus Christ to the whole hearts and lives of all believers should be felt and acknowledged among us.
4. May we not fear that an unwarrantable dependance on human instrumentality in this day of Societies and Institutions, has a fatal tendency on the religion of many. During the period of the ministry of the apostles, the state of the churches, and the circumstances of the times were such as presented the most decided evidence that the influences of the Holy Spirit alone, were adequate to effect the conversion of men, and the ultimate triumph of the Gospel; In the prospect of a violent death, amidst the opposition of men and devils, amidst the scoffs of the wise of this world, and the inveterate malice of those to whom had been committed the oracles of God, the first ministers of truth were commissioned to preach the Gospel to every creature. To receive, in these circumstances, such a commission must have afforded a convincing proof that the success of their efforts could not be attained by human wisdom or influence, and such was the fact; for though endowed with miraculous powers, and distinguished by peculiar marks of the Divine favour, every idea of reliance on human power, is expressly disavowed by them. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels," say they, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us," 2 Cor. iv. 7.
Whenever, therefore, the talents of a pastor, the wealth or influence of individuals, large public assemblies, or other external circumstances, become pillows on which carnal security may repose, or arguments to neglect a throne of grace, and slight the holy influence of the Spirit of truth, it becomes the watchmen of Zion to sound the alarm: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith, the Lord of Hosts," Zach. iv. 16. And if the ministers of the Gospel themselves place any degree of confidence respecting the success of their labours on talents, learning, the applause of mankind or human expedients, they awfully mistake the principles of the Gospel, and the laws of the kingdom of Christ. Had that memorable declaration, • " My kingdom is not of this world" uniformly influenced the conduct of the professed subjects of the Redeemer, what contentions, he
resies, and scandals would have been avoided? And is there no danger of a return of similar evils? Do not the sjgns of the times call for holy jealousy and serious self-examination? Let those who conscientiously preach the truth, allow no worldly aim to interfere with the claims of their Divine Master! While some disapprove a part of their testimony, while human prudence advises to meet the prejudices of mankind, while, by others their message is rejected, unless attired in the eloquence of the world, and blended with human philosophy, let it be their perpetual object faithfully to declare the whole counsel of God, 1 Cor. i. 23, 24, chap, ii. 1—4.
It must rejoice every lover of Zion, to witness the powerful feeling which is now expressed on the necessity of the Spirit's influence. How desirable it is, that this may increase, not as a systematic dogma, floating in the head and formally confessed in devotion, but as a constant impression, influencing our tempers and lives, and especially evident in our endeavours to glorify God, and extend the blessed Gospel. But if, on the contrary, we imagine, that because we have adequate funds, or- laborious and well qualified Missionaries, we may be assured of future success, it will soon appear, that Carey or Morrison may labour, and whole coffers of gold be poured into our treasuries; while, at the same time a killiug blast is shrivelling om- efforts, and the strong holds of Satan are triumphing over our carnal weapons: yet, let us ever cherish the Missionary spirit; not a blind, fanatical passion, arrogant, proud, and self-applauding, but the meek devotedness of hearts responding to the confession of the primitive Christians," None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth unto himself." W. F.
FROM A CORRESPONDENT.
I have met with a case lately of a delicate nature, and have known several similar cases, and think if you were to give a hint to the public it may be useful; it might be done in the way of requesting an answer to the following query :—
"Is a man justified in putting away his wife for adultery? and if so, is he at liberty to marry again w hile his first wife is living t
Sermons of the Rev. James Saurin, late Pastor of the French CJiurch at the Hague: from the French, by the Rev. Robert Robinson, Henry Hunter, and Joseph Sutcliffe, A. III. A nero Edition with additional Sermons, revised and corrected, by the Rev. Samukl BcrDkr, A.M. In G vols. 8vo. Zl. 3s. bds. London, Richard Baynes, 28, Paternoster-row. 1824.
It has frequently been remarked, that th'ere is no kind of composition, of which there is such an almost infinite variety, from the highest pitch of excellence, down to the lowest step of insipidity, as in that of sermons. From the epoch of the Reformation—that memorable event which broke the fetters of the human mind, and brought its energies into active operation—one of the most popular methods of diffusing religious instruction has been by printed sermons; and each successive age has produced its scores and its hundreds of volumes.
It happens, as might be expected where there is such a diversity of talent and sentiment employed, that there are sermons to be found suited to every taste and character. There is scarcely a bookseller's shop of any importance, the shelves of which might not accommodate the most refined and the most illiterate readers, and all the gradations of intelligence which separate them; and where every variety of religious sentiment, from the most rigid orthodoxy down to the extreme refinement of liberality, might not find an advocate in something which bears the name of sermons. But we are compelled to say, that notwithstanding the great variety which belongs to these productions in some respects, there is one feature in which a very large proportion of them sustain to each other a most melancholy resemblance; and that is, in their destitution of interest. If we look back to other ages which were almost as prolific of sermons as our own, how few do we find that have survived even a single century, A few
names constitute a kind of galaxy in the age in which they lived, and have a reasonable claim upon the gratitude of posterity; while the great mass of their contemporaries are Warning their successors from the grave of oblivion, not to count too confidently on an immortality which is to depend upon this sort of authorship.
Yet though we feel obliged to make these remarks respecting the great mass of sermons in the English language, we would not be understood as asserting that all those productions of inferior interest are destitute of utility; nor even that very many of them, on some ground or other, may not have a fair claim to come before the public. There are indeed few men, as we have already intimated, who can expect to write sermons for the world at large—sermons which the public, and which posterity will rank among the standard theological classics; but there are many men whose productions may do good by being in print, and may even excite a deeper interest within a limited circle, than many othe'rs which are really of a superior character, and are destined to a much longer existence. There are many circumstances which "induce people to read, apart from the intrinsic excellence of a book, or even its reputed character. An indifferent volume of sermons will be read in a congregation where the author is known and loved as a good minister, when scores of other volumes which stand much higher in the scale of merit, would excite so little interest, that the advertisement of them would scarcely retain the eye in the columns of a newspaper. In the former case they have learned to associate the man with their dearest interests; he has been in their families, and stood over their beds of sickness, and met them an hundred times with the greeting of an affectionate pastor; and especially, if he has gone to his grave, and these sermons come out as a memorial of his talents and fidelity, they will be regarded by his congregation as a sort of dying legacy, which it would be the
height of ingratitude not to value and peruse. Where a volume excites no interest from the author being known, though it be actually of a superior stamp, there will be no interesting associations, no recollections of the man, of his tones, and looks, and manner, calculated to induce a perusal of his book, or to send home its sentiments with a powerful and salutary impression to the heart. It is upon this general principle that we think a good deal may be said in favour of publishing sermons—that they derive an interest from local circumstances and associations. They have their sphere of usefulness, though it may be narrow; they have their period of existent, though it may be short; and though they may never be heard of beyond the circle of the author's acquaintance, or beyond the age which gave them birth, they may be instrumental in bringing sinners to repentance, and in promoting the edification of Christians, who might not have received the same benefit in any other way. We say, then, that though no man has a right to publish what is erroneous either in regard to doctrine or practice* yet there may be very good reasons why he should send forth a volume of sermons which he knows is not marked by intellectual superiority t there may be this best of all reasons, that while it-will be likely on the whole to do him no injury, it may do his people, and perhaps many others much good. We would nevertheless recommend it to every minister who makes this experiment, to count the cost beforehand, and not to form expectations that will never be realized. Let him not think that his name is about to be enrolled on the list of high literary fame. Let him not think that the great spirits of the age will suspend all reading and thinking, till they have given his book a thorough perusal; or that the fact, that he is the author of a volume of sermons is any sort of pledge that he will be regarded by posterity as a Barrow, a Sherlock, or a Saurin. Let him not be disappointed if some merciless critic should hold up his book to the world as an indifferent production; 'or if the public should withhold all expressions of commendation; or even if his publisher should complain of the bad bargain which he had made when he engaged to issue it from the press. If a minister of moderate talents wishes
to publish a book, and will make up his mind to bear patiently all these possible untoward results, he has our full consent to become an author, provided always that his book is calculated to promote the interests of truth and righteousness; and provided also that he can be assured of so much patronage, that his work shall not be the means of bringing either himself or his publisher any nearer to a state of insolvency.
May we further be allowed, now that the subject is fairly before us, fo drop a word in solution of a fact to which the experience of many an author of sermons can attest; that the writer often anticipates more credit, and the public more satisfaction, from discourses that have been delivered in the pulpit, than either of them realizes. A sermon, if it is what it ought to be, is a persuasive oration, designed not to be read, but spoken ; and if properly spoken, it must, from the nature of the case, ordinarily produce more effect when heard from the pulpit, than when read in the study: and especially if the author happen to possess a fine elocution and interesting manner, there will be a still greater disproportion in the interest which it excited in the two cases. Every preacher therefore, and more especially every one of popular address, who is about to give his sermons to the world, ought to remember that he is giving to the world the best possible advantage of judging of his real talents; that these productions will be weighed in the balance of public opinion, divested of all the attractions which they received from his delivery, and without any thing to shield their defects from the eye of cool examination. It were easy to produce instances in which preachers, by consenting to publish sermons that were heard with overwhelming applause, have undeceived the world in regard to their talents, at the expeuce of committing a sort of suicide upon their own reputation. Many judicious persons have Keen known to express their surprise on reading a sermon, which in the delivery had rivetted their attention, to find how much the preacher's manner had to do with the effect of the performance, and how very little remained when the magic of his address was" wanting, and they had an opportunity of inspecting the naked production. We would, therefore, recommend to allt and 19
REVIEW OF SAURIN'S SERMONS.
especially to young preachers of popular talents, who are requested to publish their sermons, to bear in mind that in yielding to such solicitations, they subject themselves to a different and far severer ordeal than that which they undergo in appearing before a popular assembly; they can no longer avail themselves of the dignified attitude, the animated countenance, the fine melodious voice, to assist the impression which their sentiments and language are fitted to make; and if the sermon in print falls very far short of what it appeared to be in the delivery, it is not unlikely that the hearers will pay off the preacher for the disappointment which he has occasioned them, by making his performance the subject of censure which it does not deserve. There was much good sense and shrewdness in the reply of the minister, who was requested to give a copy of a sermon which he had preached during a thunder-storm :—" I zcill give my consent," said he, " upon condition that you print the thunder and the lightning Also!!"
But there is a more direct and substantial reason to be given for the generaj fact, that there are so few sermons of the highest order, and that is, that of all kinds of composition, it is one of the most difficult to execute. A person of a particular turn of mind may succeed in writing a single discourse, in which his peculiar talent is brought into operation without much difficulty; and he may produce something which shall not only strike well upon the popular ear, but also bear a very cool and thorough reading. It is, however, a task of much more difficulty to produce a volume of sermons, which shall bring into view a considerable diversity of topics, and bear upon the human character in a great variety of ways, and befitted to touch the hidden springs,not only of our -intellectual, but moral nature; this requires a versatility and depth of gen'wg, which cannot be considered as a very common gift. It is no doubt true, that the first and most important of all requisites for writing good sermons, is a spirit of deep and unfeigned piety; for without this, they will be likely to lack the most essential of all qualities, that evangelical and practical tendency which ought to charar terize every address that is made to men in the capacity of immortal beings. But this is by no means the only quali
fication. There must be a power of intellect which can introduce into a discourse at pleasure, a train of impressive and legitimate reasoning; nut the abstractions and refinements of metaphysical Theology, which to the mass of hearers and readers may be supposed to be unintelligible; but such reasoning as is drawn from the plain and established principles of human nature, or of the Divine government; suoh reasoning as Paul employed when he made Felix tremble; which is calculated to confound sophistry, and overwhelm scepticism with the power.of conviction. But as men are not the mere creatures of intellect, but have also a system of passions and affections to be operated upon, it is necessary that the writer of sermons should be able successfully to approach the heart; that he should have that deep knowledge of human nature, which will enable him not only to hold up a mirror in which his hearers or readers shall see their own characters faithfully reflected, but by means of which he shall be able to rouse up the active powers of the mind in aid of any good impressions, to awaken gradually the finer sensibilities of the heart, or, if needful, to storm the whole soul by a bold, and sudden, and resistless attack. Much sound judgment is also necessary to be mingled with the power of convincing and persuading, otherwise the passions will sometimes chance to be excited, when the understanding needs to be convinced; and, on the contrary, the powers of the intellect will be put in requisition, when a warm and glowing appeal should be made directly to the heart. All this considered, it is not strange that the number of sermons of the very first class is comparatively small; for every one knows that it falls to the lot of but few men, to unite all these various qualities of mind in great perfection. Accordingly we find that almost every volume which we take up has some prominent excellence or defect, with a good many qualities, perhaps, which are purely negative; while it is only now and then one, in which we see the steady and uniform march of a mind, which, in every thing that it teaches, leaves evidence of its consistency and greatness.
It would be foreign to the design of this preliminary discussion, to enquire where the best sermons are to be found, or to institute any comparison between