Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

scores of miles, across flood and plain, through dale and thicket; and yet neither the angry heavens nor the swollen stream will arrest these indefatigable soldiers of the Cross on their rounds of duty. The sacrifices and privations of very many, who have been accustomed to the refinements and enjoyments of New England society, but from pure religious zeal have gone to carry the word of life to our frontier settlements, vastly exceed those of many foreign missionaries, whom a munificent public supplies with the comforts, if not the luxuries, of home. And yet there is no waste place of Zion so uninviting as to repel the Christian minister. Wherever there are immortal souls to be saved, wherever there is harvest-work to be done, there are earnest and devoted men at hand, saying, "Here am I, - send me."

The American clergy, as a body, are men of blameless lives. The body is now a very numerous one, and every moral obliquity of a member of it is trumpeted through the land; nor can there be any profession, of whose purity there is so watchful a jealousy on the part of the public, and with regard to which there is so great a readiness to seize upon, magnify, and construe in the worst form every appearance of evil. While in other professions a man is deemed innocent till he is proved guilty, a suspicion, which cannot be substantiated, is often sufficient to blight a minister's character and prospects. And yet how very few, compared with the thousands who belong to the profession, are its dishonored members! What an overwhelming majority adorn, by lives above reproach and crowded with duty and with usefulness, the religion which they preach!

None can deny that the American clergy are industrious, probably beyond the members of any other profession. In some denominations the intellectual demands upon the profession, in the preparation of sermons that shall satisfy fastidious tastes, as well as edify simple, humble piety, are crushingly heavy. And where such demands are not made, it is expected of the minister that he shall live almost wholly in the houses of his flock, and in the unceasing discharge of parochial duty. Of a very large acquaintance in the profession, we cannot call to mind half a score of settled ministers of all denominations, who may not be said to give themselves wholly to the work, and to make it the all-per

vading object of their reading and relaxation, no less than of their severer toil and study. We are disposed to speak in the strongest terms of the devotedness of the American clergy. We have been conversant with many of almost every denomination, and in every section of the country, and can testify that the great object of their inquiry seems to be, how they may do the most good; that they are continually soliciting light and aid from each other's experience; and that such are the tone and temper of their communings with each other, that the burden of their daily prayer must be, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?"

The American clergy have also been prompt and active in every form and mode of benevolent effort. In the various departments of private charity, they probably bestow more largely, in proportion to their means, than those of any other profession. They have been foremost in zeal and efficiency in all the great enterprises for the conversion of the world. The missionary movement, in every branch and stage, has been almost exclusively originated, guided and controlled by them. They have taken the lead in the cause of prison reform. They have devised and brought to pass almost all that has been done for the spiritual good of seamen. They have planned and conducted the successful efforts now in operation for the benefit of the poor, ignorant and degraded population of our cities. In these various enterprises they have often gone forward alone, in the face of skepticism and opposition on every side, until by long perseverance they have at last called out the coöperation for which at the outset they sought in vain. In the Temperance reform, the Clergy have taken the lead. The old Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, the earliest association of the kind in the world, was planned and conducted chiefly by clergymen, and the great majority of its prominent and influential members were from the clerical profession. The next important movement, which resulted in the general disuse of distilled spirit, met with much opposition at the outset from the preponderance of clerical influence in its management, and had for several years to contend with the popular cry of "priestcraft." In the last great stage of progress in this cause, the clerical profession could hardly have been expected to furnish leaders, as it was conducted solely by

reformed inebriates; and yet we verily believe that, with some, clergymen are held in a degree of disesteem, simply because they never were drunkards, and therefore cannot claim any high rank in the new Temperance organization. But this last movement has had the hearty sympathy, the prayers, the cordial coöperation of four-fifths of the clergy of New England. They have generally taken the lead of their parishes in the abandonment of all intoxicating liquors. There is no other profession, among the members of which entire abstinence from all that can intoxicate is so nearly universal. The clergy have made large sacrifices in this cause. They almost all, in the early stages of the reform, arrayed themselves against the sale of spirituous liquors, and in this warfare have had to encounter the deadly hostility of men of wealth, influence and standing. We have personally known not a few, who have been absolutely driven from outwardly desirable places in the Church, because they would not propitiate at the expense of conscience wealthy and influential distillers and venders of alcoholic drinks; and others, who were for years exposed to constant and harassing persecutions on the same ground, before their zeal and efforts were crowned with success.

As for the cause of the slave, the names of Follen, Ware and Whitman, as well as of many of our clergy yet living, to say nothing of other denominations, were identified with the earliest stages of the present movement; the writings of Channing on Slavery have no doubt convinced more minds and moved more hearts, than those of any other man; and had the cause been conducted all along in the gentle, loving and forbearing spirit in which these good men would have conducted it, it would by this time have disarmed all opposition at the North, and made an opening for the reception of the truth at the South. Many of the clergy have retained their connection with this movement; others have left it with reluctance, because they could not conscientiously join in the outcry against the Church and their brethren in the ministry, or sympathize with denunciatory utterances and proceedings, which they deemed at variance with the law, example and spirit of Jesus; others again, many others, feel deeply for those in bondage, make them the subject of daily and fervent prayer, and are longing for some avenue of influence and effort, on which they

cause.

may enter without violating the principles of Christian integrity and charity. The clergy of New England, and especially those of our own portion of the Church, (with very few exceptions,) feel warmly and strongly in this It enters into all their discussions; other subjects are perpetually running into this; there is a deep and growing sense of responsibleness with regard to it, and a spirit of earnest inquiry as to the path of duty, which both friends and foes combine to render doubtful and difficult. Our clerical intercourse is sufficiently extensive and intimate to give us a right to speak with some authority; and we hesitate not, with reference to the clergy of New England, to pronounce the charge of coldness and indifference to any cause of human freedom, virtue and progress, a baseless slander.

But the clergy, it is said, do not devote time enough to these reforms; they are not, frequently enough, present, active and prominent at philanthropic meetings. Their rightful plea in abatement of this charge is inability. They cannot spare the time demanded for these meetings from the abodes of the stricken, the sick and the poor, or from the weekly preparation for the sanctuary - a severer labor than any but a clergyman can know. They have also, on all these subjects, the public ear from the pulpit. This is their proper post of duty and of influence. There every department of Christian righteousness falls within their province; nor is there any one of these causes, which they may not advocate more effectually there than elsewhere.

But the clergy are complained of as too conservative. The profession has, no doubt, some conservative tendencies. One of these is, that of the preoccupied mind. The minister's mind and heart, time and hands, are often so 1 full, that he can with difficulty entertain a new subject, or engage in any new cause or mode of effort. But this tendency, so far as it might retard reform, is obviated by the hand of death, which yearly removes so many from the scene of earthly duty, and puts young men men of the present full of all the new light that there is, in the place of the fathers.

[ocr errors]

But a great deal of the alleged conservatism of the clergy results from the essential nature of their peculiar duties. There are many clergymen, who in these philanthropic

movements would gladly go faster and farther than their flocks. But they are shepherds; and, if they leave their flocks behind them, what account can they give, when the chief Shepherd shall appear? There are lambs in every flock, that must be gently led, not driven. There are those that halt or turn aside; and they must be kept or brought back. A minister must have reference to what he can reasonably hope to effect with his people, in the prominence which he gives to one or another object of philanthropic effort. His object is, not to draw out the philanthropic energies of a few, but to enlist as many as possible in the heartfelt discharge of the active duties and charities appertaining to the Christian life. He will therefore often plead for a near, in preference to a distant, cause of philanthropy, - for one, which has incidental associations with the condition and feelings of many of his parishioners, in preference to one in behalf of which he can appeal to no such associations, for one, in which he knows that he can excite a general interest, in preference to that which occupies the first place in his own individual regard. It is all one cause. The moral harvest-field is one; and, as a private individual, being incapable of working in every part of the field, ought to labor chiefly in that where he can accomplish the most, so should the minister as such bestow his chief attention upon those parts where he can induce the people of his charge to do the most.

But the various enterprises of philanthropy, while they should none of them be neglected by the minister, can rightfully occupy but a small part of his public services and discourses. He has much other, more essential and fundamental, work to do. Men must be good, in order to do good. The first commandment is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart"; and no one can keep the second, of love to his neighbor, until he has learned to keep the first. No one can be persevering, consistent, allembracing in his love for man, unless he love the universal Father. A New England clergyman, respectably settled, may see fit, (in our opinion ought to see fit,) to preach occasionally on Temperance and on Slavery. But he probably has in his congregation few drunkards, and no slaveholders; and, though the citizens of the North have solemn responsibilities with reference to Slavery, they have many

« AnteriorContinuar »