Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

proved a healthful tonic. After some weeks of wandering, he found an arbor of rest at Heidelberg, beautiful for situation, as it overlooks the lovely valley of the Neckar. His vigor was so far restored that he took the chaplain's place, and ministered in the English chapel there for six weeks, to the acceptance of his hearers generally, and to the special relief of some troubled with Unitarian difficulties.

At the close of the year 1846, Robertson returned to England. He had resigned his charge at Cheltenham while abroad, his painful associations with the place forbidding the thought of returning thither. In the following spring, he accepted from the Bishop of London the Church of St. Ebbe's in Oxford—“ a forlorn hope,” as he terms it, “and the stipend miserable.” With his new found freedom, however, he threw himself earnestly into the work of this new and discouraging field and was blest. His brief ministry of two months won all classes, especially the undergraduates of the University, who, every Sunday thronged the church, and “hung breathlessly on every word he uttered.” A call, unsought and undesired, came to him from Trinity Church, Brighton. Courtesy to the bishop and jealousy of himself, lest he might be swayed by regard to his own advantage, led him, at first, promptly to decline it. But, by the urgent advice of the bishop, he was induced to reconsider the matter and accept the call. In August, 1847, he commenced work in Brighton, under a presentiment not altogether painful, “ that his work, done as he did it with a throbbing brain, with nerves strung to their utmost tension, and with a physical excitement which was all the more consuming from being mastered in its outward forms, would kill him in a few years. He resolved to crowd into this short time all he could.” There, just six years after, he finished his course, and how much he did crowd into that short time! Now came out the ripened fruit of thirty-one years of self-culture and discipline under the Spirit and Providence of God. But we may not prolong this sketch to bring it out in full exposition. Thoughtful men must and will study it in his letters and published sermons. We can only name a few salient points of this most interesting period of his life.

Perhaps the best clue we have to the nature of the struggle and crisis through which he had passed, appears in the following statement of his views respecting the object to be aimed at in preaching. “IIe had long felt that Christianity was too much preached as theology, too little as the religion of daily life; too much as a religion ol feeling, too little as a religion of principles; too much as a religion only for individuals, too little as a religion for nations and for the world. He determined to make it bear upon the social state of all classes, upon the questions which agitated society, upon the great movements of the world.”

His attitude was that of an independent free-thinker in the best sense of the word. He stood mid-way between the Evangelical and the High Church parties—somewhat bitter in feeling towards the Evangelicals, because they wounded his sensitive soul most keenly, while yet his spiritual sympathies were with them--his natural tastes inclining him all the time to the High Church party, while his convictions were against their views. Of course, both parties looked upon him with suspicion, and turned on him with denunciation as a heretic and an alien. So, with a soul made for sympathy and society, he felt the pain of loneliness, as one misunderstood and misrepresented.

Without respect to parties, he stands before us, his feet firmly planted on solid principles, settled and defined by and for himself-his whole frame erect with a back-bone of iron will nerved with a good conscience. Every sermon, every act, appears prompted by sincere convictions expressed in the freedom and independence of one who thought for himself. The magnetic intensity of his own interest and feeling held those who came in contact with himn spell-bound. They must yield and go with him, or resist and condemn. He thus defines the principles upon which he taught.

First, The establishment of positive truth instead of the negative destruction of error. Secondly, That truth is made up of two opposite propositions, and not found in a via media between the two. Thirdly, That spiritual truth is discerned

by the spirit, instead of intellectually, in propositions; andtherefore truth should be taught suggestively, not dogmati cally. Fourthly, That belief in the human character of Christ's Humanity must be antecedent to belief in his Divine origin. Fifthly, That Christianity, as its teachers should, works from the inward to the outward, and not vice versa. Sixthly, The soul of goodness in things evil.”

The points about which he seemed most at variance with the views of evangelical Christians were, The Atonement, Justification by Faith, Baptism, and the Sabbath. Yet the inore carefully we read his utterances on these topics, the more does it appear that he holds the substantial truth on thein all, but is trying to give them a form of statement which shall relieve difficulties. We should object to some of these forms of statement, as likely to mislead some minds predisposed to error. Perhaps they may help some who are struggling in the darkness of doubt into the full light of truth. That which saved him from departing from the faith, under the pressure of doubts within and opposition without, was his fidelity to the dictates of his conscience, and his high estimation of the person, the character, and the condescending love of Christ. All souls that are open to the general impression of his letters and sermons, will find influences of the same kind working all the time to save them from grievous error. The drift of his sermons was eminently practical. They evince an honest, earnest attempt to bring Christianity down to the life of men, to raise, refine and regenerate that life.

All this is confirmed by the actual results of his preaching. To the intellectual men of his congregation, it was engaging and quickening. To men of skeptical tendencies, it was corrective and helpful. “I never hear him," said one, “without some doubt being removed, or some difficulty solved.” “For those whose religion grows primarily out of emotion, he illustrated, in happy and fit combination, the power of close and abstract thinking, and the power of deep and intense feeling.” “ The most visible portion of the labor of his life was among the working-men. He bound fifteen hundred of them together in a bond of mutual help; he united them--men of a class which is jealous of church interference-in reverence for his character as a minister and as a Christian man, while, at the same time, he invariably bade them look away from him to his Master.”

The great struggle of his soul, as well as we can apprehend it, and the labor of his life, were with the problem how to make the religion of intellectual faith in the great truths of man and of God, and the religion of sentimental emotion from the contemplation of those truths, at the same time a religion of action—the natural expression of a good conscience, the working out of self-sacrificing love. The problem is not solved for the individual nor for the world without a cross of suffering.

ARTICLE IV.

DEFINITE PREACHING. The question before the preacher is, not exclusively what will gratify a certain popular taste, but what will persuade men. Persuasion is the end and aim of preaching, rather than the mere gratification of any æsthetic taste in the hearers. There is a taste which loves the splendid march of sentences and the musical roll of swelling words, but devoid of that life which is breathed into style by the presence of living truth. Sound is worth more to it than substance. Such taste is vicious. A style, which pleases it, is a rhetorical as well as moral monstrosity. It can not compass the end of true preaching. The moral and rhetorical aim of a sermon is to convict. A production which has not this aim does not deserve the name sermon. No accumulation of texts can save it. Such a sounding style, while it may please for the moment, fails in the end, for it presents nothing by which the hearer can be convicted. That is not good taste which demands

that truth be so hid in words that its pungency shall not be felt. It is equally bad rhetoric. The highest aim of a sermon is not met, and its best effect is not produced, if it does not contain an obvious truth, and if this truth is not felt. The popular mind generally demands in the preacher clearness, force, simplicity, and, as a guaranty of candor, that he feel the force of what he utters, and that he speak as much as possible from personal experience. He speaks honestly and with convicting force, who speaks what he feels and believes. Cicero's idea applies here, that it is far easier to exhibit io advantage what exists, than to feign what does not exist.

That is the highest style of elegance which meets this demand of the popular mind. It puts culture to the highest use; that of going down to men laden with the truth. The words need not be uncouth if they are pungent, nor the style vulgar if it is clear. That is the highest finish which represents exactly what was intended. As that is the highest polish which enables one to see his own countenance most distinctly, so that is the perfectest style which helps the hearer to see clearly the thought of the speaker. That is the best preaching, rhetorically and morally, which blazes the truth as it were npon its style. Words, which under some circumstances would be vulgar, may come to be sufficiently elegant, when they express a thought with more force than any other.

That is really the most cultivated taste which demands such preaching. For it demands that culture be useful. While such culture brings its thoughts to the level of common capacity, it is elevated far above anything low in the use of pure, simple, and forcible language. The fountain may be clear even though high and low, rich and poor, clean and unclean, quench their thirst at it together. A mirror none the less discloses beautiful features because an ugly face has just peered into it. Such are some of the qualities of a healthy style which make it attractive to all grades of mind alike, when it is used to convey thought. If language conceals want of thought, some may be bewildered, but most will discover the trick and be disgusted. The common people heard Christ

« AnteriorContinuar »