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As modesty is thus needful to the minister in forming his religious opinions, it gives a grace to his manner of imparting them. It is admitted that the grand and fundamental truths of religion are perspicuous in themselves, and plain in their evidence. If, on these topics, it is the duty of every Christian to think and speak with decision, it is still more clearly the duty of every minister. But confidence is not arrogance, nor is decision dogmatism. There is a harsh, magisterial air in the pulpit, which makes truth seem repulsive; and from the lips of some preachers grace itself appears ungracious. It is a calm, unobtrusive manner which most unequivocally betokens conviction in the speaker; and it is this manner which is most adapted to beget conviction in the hearer. There is an unaffected, honest deference which a judicious minister knows how to pay to the understanding of his hearers, and this deference is generally paid back with interest. Prejudices and objections often fly before it, which would have stood their ground against severity and dogmatism. All the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel are naturally unwelcome to the human heart. But it is not therefore the less undesirable that by a harsh, overbearing manner in the delivery, they should be rendered still more repulsive. And if, on the other hand, there are truths, as doubtless there are, which are adapted to soften and to break the most obdurate heart, how important is it that the mildness and tenderness of their exhibition be such as should give them the fullest, deepest impression.
So long as human hearts retain their depravity, and Christians their imperfections, so long will differences and contrarieties of opinions find their way into the church. These discrepances of opinion will give birth to religious controversy. And how humbling is the thought, that religious controversy is often conducted with greater acrimony than is generally witnessed in the contests of worldly men. And how much more deplorable is it, that the acrimony should frequently be not in direct, but inverse proportion to the importance of the subject debated. Yet such has been too often the case. If in regard to the government of the church, the divine author of the Bible has given to his followers a degree of latitude, which is proba bly the case, then it follows that all bitter disputes as to the form of church government are at once needless, fruitless, and wicked. Yet it is by disputes upon these, and other unessential. topics, that the church has in every age been agitated, convulsed, and torn asunder. These things are the opprobrium of religion, the grief of the pious, and the triumph of the ungodly. When shall such evils be banished? When shall these fires of hell be extinguished? When shall the church witness again that golden era when Christians loved each other with pure hearts fervently; when the whole multitude of those who believed were of one heart and of one mind? We answer, When Christians shall imbibe more of the spirit of their meek and lowly Master; when they shall honestly resolve to treat great things as great things, and little things as little things; when, conscious of their own infirmities and errors, they shall treat kindly the infirmi ties and errors of their brethren; when they shall be modest in their claims and generous in their concessions. When these revolutions shall take place, the church will arise from her depressions, will cast off her incumbrances, will look forth in beauty and glory, the joy of earth, and the bright resemblance of heaven.
The modesty we are recommending is an important safeguard against a worldly spirit. Than such a spirit nothing is more inveterately hostile to the power and prosperity of religion. To the Christian minister it is peculiarly noxious. It cripples his energies and impairs his usefulness. It even corrodes the vitals of his piety. In every age it has cast down many wounded. In every nation its progress has been marked with spiritual desolation and death in the church and in its ministry. In our own age and country, the dangers from this source are singularly multiplied and alarming. With a fertile soil, a free government, and a rapid advance in the arts and luxuries of living, we have had for years an exuberant tide of wealth and prosperity flowing in upon us, The world has seemed to array itself in new charms, and life to exhibit new attractions, Pleasure, self-gratification, in all their varied forms, have become the universal rage. The church has not escaped the contagion, Never, perhaps, in any period or country, was the church pervaded by such a spirit of gain, of luxury and splendor, as in our own at the present time. In this state of the church the condition of the minister is dangerous and trying in the extreme. What shall prevent his being swept away by the torrent of fashion? What shall save him from plunging into that vortex of worldliness and dissipation, where dignity of character is lost, and ministerial influence is lost, and not unfrequently shipwreck is made of an immortal hope? But these are not the only dangers. He may be precluded by nar, rowness of circumstances from running a race with the votaries of wealth and splendor. He may find himself the object of neglect, of pity, or scorn, with those who claim to prescribe the laws of fashion and the tone of public sentiment. And what shall sustain him in circumstances like these? We answer, In both the cases supposed the minister has one resort, one refuge, He may find it in a subdued, humble, unaspiring mind; and he can find it nowhere else. If he has sat at the feet of a lowly Saviour, he has found where real happiness springs. If he has risen to communion with God, he can look down on all which the world thinks elevated and great. If he is enriched with the treasures of the gospel, and may communicate these treasures to others, he is rich to his heart's content. If he has the humble hope of his Saviour's smile, he may well be deaf to the world's applause, and repay its neglect or scorn with compassion.
If the spirit of worldliness is disastrous in its influence on the ministerial character, the spirit of ambition is not the less so. Many, indeed, who have been inaccessible to the attractions of wealth and splendor, have been corrupted and destroyed by the love of praise, This passion is as powerful as it is pernicious. Wherever it gains access it takes possession of the whole soul. It claims to reign supreme, and without a rival. The Deity himself is dethroned. The wretched devotee, withdrawing his worship from his Maker, becomes the worshipper of himself. Nor is he content till the whole church and the whole world unite in the same idolatry, and bow at the same altar. If the question be asked, What is the source of those numberless errors and heresies which have vexed and distracted the Christian church from age to age? it must be replied, that the grand source of the evil is ambition. Men possessed of some learning, but of still more restlessness and love of distinction, 54
VOL. IX. Oct., 1838.
have perverted the Scriptures. Not content to let them speak their own language, they have invented a language for them. Some novel but false idea has darted into their own minds, and they have found it in the Scriptures, or forced it upon them. The deviation from truth may at first be small; but as the importance of the new idea becomes identified with their own importance, it soon becomes a great and momentous affair. Every thing in the Bible which remotely countenances the favorite is sedulously pressed into the service, and every thing of a contrary aspect as sedulously overlooked. Gradually a new theory arises, which, itself immortal, is to give immortality to its author. But the cause of truth and piety receives a wound; and error and division are perpetuated in the church.
Such has been the origin of error in the past ages of the church. In every age of the church there is danger that men occupying eminent stations, men ambitious of literary distinction, and not distrustful of their own powers, should substitute the form or semblance of Christianity in the place of its vital essence. And this the more as it is well known that a plausible counterfeit of the doctrines of the gospel is, to the generality of human hearts, more welcome than those doctrines themselves. Ministers of every description, especially those of the younger class, are exposed to the same snare. It is gratifying to personal vanity, and of this the best have enough, to be uttering one's own novel and showy fancies rather than those plain, old-fashioned doctrines of the Bible which have nothing to recommend them but their everlasting truth and infinite importance.
But there are other modes in which ambition is displayed and gratified. Let us cast a momentary glance across the Atlantic. Let us contemplate the great British anniversaries and the manner in which they are conducted. These occasions bring together a considerable portion, not only of the piety and benevolence, but of the taste and fashion, the distinguished nobility, with the dignified and respectable clergy of the metropolis and the nation. Not a few of the speeches are uttered by ministers of the gospel. These speeches are often prepared with much care; they are highly ornamented-surcharged, indeed, with flowers of rhetoric and flights of imagination. The speakers frequently compliment each other in no very measured terms. Their speeches are generally received by the audience with emphatic expressions of approbation. Those which are peculiarly brilliant call forth loud and reiterated bursts of applause. Here, then, certain serious questions arise. Will these exhibiters return entirely unharmed? Will their Christian character and feelings sustain no shock? If they brought to the scene some portion of spirituality and humility, will they carry as much away? Or will they be too apt to leave the greater part behind? In this pleasant collision of effort, on the one part, and admiration on the other, will no flame be enkindled, consuming the best sensibilities of the Christian, and even the finest feelings of natural delicacy? In this species of commerce, while a corrupting, deteriorating influence is imparted to the individual, will not a the same bad influence return back upon the community?
The religious anniversaries of our own country are conducted in a more correct and chastened style. If on this point our British brethren view us as lagging behind the spirit of the age, we may
well cherish the wish, that the period may be distant when we shall overtake it. Yet with us serious and menacing evils exist. The species of eloquence which these occasions are found to cherish is not always in keeping either with the principles of good taste, or the genuine spirit of Christianity. Some speeches, indeed, delight us by their fulness of thought and force of reasoning; by their genuine pathos and unaffected piety. In others we perceive such a spirit of levity and display, with perhaps such abortive attempts at the sublime or pathetic as are truly disgusting. It cannot be denied that these occasions subject the modesty and humility of our clergy, the younger part especially, to a severe test. Those not unfrequently whose qualifications and claims are most decisive have an insuperable reluctance to these public appearances. While those with whom they are objects of ambition rarely come forward either with advantage to the public, or with honor and safety to themselves. Cases have occurred in which the unlimited indulgence of this ambition has proved the wreck of moral feeling and the sacrifice of Christian character.
A young minister comes forward under the most promising auspices. Apparently he is devoted, humble, unobtrusive, and lovely. His talents excite public notice. Societies of various descriptions take measures to enlist him in their cause. His first great public effort is approved; the second, admired; the third, warmly applauded. Soon his character as a popular public speaker is established. His name is extensively known, and his praise is sounded by a multitude of tongues. But, in the meantime, where is that simplicity, once so lovely! Where is that modesty, so attractive, and where that spirituality, so delightful? Alas! they are gone; they are utterly vanished. His countenance, his air, his whole demeanor, proclaim him vain, self-sufficient, arrogant; almost a man of the world. Who that knew him once is not ready to exclaim,
"If thou art he! but O how fallen!"
And who that has observed the progress of human character and human events is not prepared to witness a fall still more signal and tremendous-still more decisive of character and fate?
It might be difficult, perhaps impossible, to carry forward the great religious objects of the day without the aid of those public assemblages to which we have referred. They may be necessary instruments of awakening and keeping alive the general attention and interest. Nor do those evils to which they have sometimes given birth hold any natural or necessary connection with them. In themselves they would seem calculated to expand the heart, to purify and elevate the affections, to spread a healthful influence over the public mind, and to excite the energies of Christians to their noblest possible exercise. It is only by a perversion that they become scenes of mere curiosity, of amusement, of display; occasions of giving and receiving the incense of adulation. And surely it is a signal and lamentable perversion when, in this way, they become instruments to secularize religion, to pollute the sentiments and taste of the people, and to deteriorate the character of ministers.
But it is not in these public scenes alone that ministers are exposed and ensnared. Perils throng around their daily path. Even when engaged in their duties, which should make and keep them
humble, they are in danger of losing their humility. Even that kindness and partiality of an affectionate people designed by Hea ven to stimulate and lighten their labors, too often furnish fuel to their pride and vanity.
The dangers of which we are speaking are not excluded even from the pulpit. This is a sacred inclosure; and of all possible intruders pride would appear to be the most unseemly and odious. Yet from this master-sin, entwining itself about every fibre of the human heart, the holiest and humblest of men are not wholly delivered. The angels of light, in their purity, and their worship, cover their faces, and sink in dust. While man, stained with guilt, and odious in his pollution, dreams of personal excellence; forgets himself and his Maker; is unabashed and irreverent in the presence of infinite Majesty. What do angels think? What do they think of our worship, of our sermons and prayers, of our praises and confessions? What do they think of what we style our reverence and devotion, our humility and love? And what does He think who charges the angels themselves with comparative impurity and folly.
Would not the Sabbath acquire a new sacredness, and the sanctuary an unspeakably increased interest, did every minister bring to the pulpit a deeply impressed sense of a present Deity? It would be the death blow of vanity and irreverence. The spirit of levity and the spirit of display would vanish before it. His looks, his tones, his air, his every thing would indicate the ambassador of Heaven. The sanctuary would assume the solemnity and silence of the tomb. Many would be ready to exclaim, How dreadful is this place! Few would retire unimpressed or unprofited.
The minister who is serious and humble in the sacred desk will naturally be chastened and modest in his deportment elsewhere. This is of high importance to the impression he will be apt to make on the general mind, both as it regards his personal character, and the religion he inculcates. Many respectable men are not discriminating in their views of religious doctrines. But most men are quick-sighted enough in detecting moral distinctions in the characters of religious guides. A meek and modest minister is generally known and noted, to the honor of religion. And so is a proud and arrogant minister, to its disgrace.
These remarks, on a topic of no small interest, are confessedly desultory. The writer has not aimed either to treat the subject very methodically, or to exhaust it. It is still fruitful of very important reflections. The hints he has thrown out he submits with great deference to the ministers of the gospel. He particularly asks for them the attention and candor of those numerous young men in a course of training for the Christian ministry, who, in forming their own character, are preparing to form the character and shape the destiny of those numberless immortal minds with which they will be hereafter surrounded.