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Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1840, by
ALEXANDER W. MITCHELL, M. D.,
Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
« TRUTH is in order to godliness," and public preaching is an appointed mode of presenting truth to the human mind.
The chief end of the Gospel Ministry, is, to glorify God in the conversion and salvation of men. It is an instrumentality eminently fitted to produce this result, being wisely adapted to the nature of man, as a moral and intelligent creature.
Although it possesses no inherent efficacy, but derives all from the blessing and agency of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless, much depends upon the manner in which it is employed. Agreeably to God's plan of dealing, unless this instrumentality be wisely and rightly used, we may not hope for great success.
Whatever, therefore, tends to secure for it efficiency, in making it the power of God unto salvation, claims the prayerful consideration of all, both preachers and hearers. For this subject is one of great interest, both to clergymen and laymen. On both rests a weighty responsibility, in regard to the character of the ministrations of the sanctuary. It is the office of the minister to dispense the word, but it is the duty of laymen to select and call such as will dispense it in an edifying manner. It is to be feared that churches generally, do not fully appreciate their responsibility in this particular. In a matter so important as the salvation of sinners, and the up-building of the faith of the saints, dependent, as it is to a great degree, upon the character of the ministrations employed for this purpose, a congregation cannot be too careful and discreet. Their own comfort in religion, their own growth in grace and knowledge, as well as the future welfare of their children, are deeply concerned in the choice they may make. The weal or woe of many souls may be made to turn upon it.
The sources of danger in this respect are not always obvious to a congregation, and consequently, they are not, at all times, sufficiently guarded against. The requisite forms of Presbyterial action, cannot, in all cases, be relied on as an adequate security. The best and wisest men may be deceived and imposed on, or counteracted in their efforts to prevent evil. The sources of danger are commonly two: unsoundness in the faith and the want of ability and ade
quate mental endowments. One effect of these evils is, to perpetuate themselves; for where a people have never been properly instructed, they are, to a great extent, unable to detect these disqualifications in a candidate for the pastoral office; and hence are more easily imposed on by weak or designing men. An errorist, particularly when he has an end to answer by it, will carefully conceal his real sentiments, where he knows they would be unacceptable and un. popular. By the use of equivocal language, and of words and phrases, to which he attaches a meaning different from that which, he has reason to believe, is attached to them by his hearers, he may succeed in deceiving them. No positive defection is discoverable; and if any thing at all is amiss, it is either of so negative a character, as to excite no suspicion, or such only as may be easily allayed by adroit explanations.
If the stratagem succeed, and the candidate become the pastor, one of two things will most likely ensue. Either he will cautiously inculcate his real sentiments, and gradually avow them as plainly as he safely may, and thus ultimately become the disseminator and advocate of unscriptural and pernicious dogmas; or, should he discover that this would be inexpedient and unsafe, he will, in order to retain his situation, either avoid altogether those topics on which he differs from the received creed, or handle them deceitfully, in so vague and general a way, as to convey no definite ideas of the subject he professes to treat, and thus become a tame, empty, and unedifying preacher.
Indeed this may serve to account for the seemingly impossible fact, that the ministrations of some preachers are of this very character, notwithstanding their admitted talents and learning.
In regard to those who lack ability and mental capacity, their success in obtaining the suffrages and ultimate call of a people, may be accounted for thus. With great pains and labour, they exhaust their minds on a few discourses. On these they rely as passports to the favourable opinion and confidence of the people. But after they have served this purpose, and have inducted their author (or copyist, as the case may be,) into office, they are laid aside, and the like is never heard again. It has, indeed, happened, that in order to maintain their standing and reputation, such preachers have availed themselves of the labours of others, in a way not very creditable to their moral honesty, nor altogether secure against detection by the more intelligent of their hearers.
Such are the dangers of deception and imposition, to which congregations are exposed, in the selection of pastors and teachers. Sound instruction, and a thorough indoctrination, constitute their surest safeguard. Thus shielded, a congregation may as readily detect an errorist by what he omits to say, as by what he inculcates. If, for example, in the exposition of the proof texts of a doctrine, he should fail to discover the doctrine itself, though he may not formally reject it, yet a well instructed hearer could discover the character of the expositor.
With the conviction, therefore, that this is a subject of no small moment to the members, as well as ministers of our Church, we shall proceed in our endeavours to show the importance of doctrinal and instructive preaching.
Paul's solemn charge to Timothy, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, was, “ Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” 2 Tim. iv. 2. The same apostle exhorts Titus to “ hold fast the faithful word as he had been taught, that he might be able by SOUND DOCTRINE, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” Titus i. 9.
While we lay great stress upon the necessity of imparting to our congregations, solid instruction out of God's word, we by no means detract from the importance of pungent exhortation and reproof. On the contrary, we believe that the efficiency of the latter depends, under God, upon a due regard to the former. Instruction is the basis of persuasive exhortation.
Wilks, in his prize essay on the signs of conversion and unconversion, states the relation of doctrine to practice thus: “ After the experience of nearly two thousand years, it might, without danger of mistake, be admitted as a demon. strated fact, that morality has always advanced or declined, in proportion as the Gospel has been preached in its genuine simplicity, or in a garbled form; and, consequently, that nothing but the undisguised doctrines of Christianity can accomplish even that object, which the worldling considers as the only end of the clerical establishment. But this ob ject, great as it is, is far from being the utmost that a pious minister proposes to himself. His preaching is founded on the supposition, that a man, though outwardly moral, may fail of being a true Christian, and in consequence, fail of the rewards of Christianity. Internal religion, a religion of motives and intentions, a religion corresponding to that which our Saviour taught in his sermon on the Mount, he esteems
necessary to make the most brilliant or useful action acceptable to that Being, whom • without faith it is impossible to please.' He conceives, therefore, that the doctrinal parts of Christianity are essentially necessary in his preaching. Whether he argues from the practice of the inspired writers, or from the nature of the thing itself, he arrives at the same conclusion, that an exhibition of the moral precepts of the Gospel, without the doctrines on which they depend, is as contrary to the intention of its Author, as the opposite error of inculcating its doctrines, and forgetting its commands.”
Our object, in this tract, is to inculcate the duty and importance of sound doctrinal and instructive preaching, as opposed to an empty, vapid declamation, which may excite the gaze of the vulgar, and the admiration of the weak and uninformed; and also as opposed to unintelligible specula. tions about the useless refinements of metaphysics, and philosophy, falsely so called, which the apostle denominates “vain babblings," a " doting about questions and strifes of words.” Thus they “turn aside unto vain jangling-un. derstanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”
The office of a Gospel minister is to instruct the people out of God's word. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all na. tions,” is the Saviour's last command. Another form of this commission is, “ Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” To preach the Gospel, is to teach the people. The word translated to teach, in the first quoted form of the commission, literally signifies to make disciples. And because disciples can only be made by instruction, the word is properly translated to teach.
The object of preaching is the restoration of the Divine image to the souls of men, which image consists in knowledge, as well as holiness. This has been lost, and consequently ignorance and blindness of mind, now characterize the race. Herein lies the necessity for teaching the people; that the eyes of their understanding may be opened through the word, and the light of the glorious Gospel of the Son of God shine in upon their hearts. All men, at some time of life, need to be taught the first principles of religion, and while babes in Christian knowledge, they must be fed with the pure milk of the word, and with strong meat, as they are able to bear it. By “strong meat,” we understand those doctrines of grace which are so repulsive to the carnal heart. The doctrines of the Bible must be explained and recommended to the people, by him who would assume the office of a public teacher in the Church. For this reason, minis