« AnteriorContinua »
PERMANENT PREACHING FOR A PERMANENT
BY REV. LEONARD WITHINGTON, D.D., NEWBURYPORT, MASS.
SOME eminent critics found their systems on very nar. row principles. Almost every critic has a system, and his remarks revolve around one centre-point, and, if its position is a false one, his criticism is imperfect. Longinus on the Sublime is a kind of canonical book, though it is hard to find out what his sublime is. He has no centre-point Dionysius Halicarnassus, in his criticism on Herodotus and Thucydides, seems to have romance in his eye, rather than truthful history. He blames Thucydides for not being as pleasing as Herodotus ; that is, for not telling as many lies. Dr. Bentley is very minute on the chronology of Milton's Paradise Lost; the very last thing my humble self would think of in reading that divine poem. Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, has one ruling canon; and that is, the CURIOSITY with which we read a book to the end and “cast our eyes,” he says, “on the last leaf, as a solitary traveller in a desert looks at the setting sun." He even applies this rule to Milton : “But original deficiency cannot be supplied. The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires, lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harrassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master and seek for companions." Coleridge, though a worse critic, has a far more noble
“ Not the poem which we have read, but that to which we return with the greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power and claims the name of essential poetry."?
Lives of the Poets, Vol. I. p. 167.
2 Biographia Literaria, Vol. I. p. 29
In painting, the picture which glares most at first, exhausts its power on the first inspection. There are tunes which we hear once with delight, and never wish to hear repeated.
It is unfortunate for a preacher to have sermons which resemble these pictures or tunes, — where the cause of the first interest is the very cause of the want of interest in the second hearing. Some preachers seem to be doomed to their fate. It is hardly their fault that they wear out. Their very genius is a brush-wood fire which blazes and burns out in its own transient splendor. We cannot expect, we ought not to ask, that the meteor which shoots athwart the heavens, should have the permanence of a fixed star, of longer endurance but inferior brightness. There is another evil; there is nothing that mankind so severely revenge as their own inflated admiration. If they have set a man too high, they never forgive him for their own injustice. The Athenians ostracised their citizens because their own folly had made them too popular, and they dreaded the effects of their previous admiration.
We plant the summer flower, and we know it must soon fade; we plant the oak, and we hope it may wave for centuries. Supposing that the general aim should be for a long pastorate, let us inquire what are the qualities which prepare for this durability, and what is the cultivation which carries these qualities to the highest possible perfection.
It must be confessed that all the requisitions are not of the literary kind. Though our inquiry will chiefly be confined to the characteristics of preaching, yet as these, however excellent, may be counteracted by other impediments, it may be proper to glance at some of them. The strongest tower may have stones in its foundation which impair its strength and hasten its fall.
One requisite for a permanent ministry is a contented mind. Godliness with contentment is great gain to preacher, as well as to a private Christian. Ambition should not enter his heart in its narrow form, nor should he measure the importance of his power by the sphere in which it acts. The flower cares not how low the vale may
be in which it grows, if it can fill the whole circuit with its fragrance. Let your good angel whisper to you what Milton has put into the mouth of his devil:
“What matter where, if I be still the same?" Not that we need to adopt a superstitious tenacity in holding to one spot. We are to hear the voice of God, we are to be willing to follow the indications of providence.
But there is another thing very essential to a permanent pastorate; indeed it is essential to all enterprises in wbich truth is the design and man is the instrument. Let us secure a personal attachment from our people. They must love us if we expect our permanent plans to do them good. If we consult history we shall find that nearly all the great leaders of the world have been remarkable for almost a fas. cinating power over the hearts of those that came near them. The great heresiarchs of the church in all ages have begun here.
Paul alludes to it in his third chapter of Ga. latians, first
se: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewITCHED you that ye should not obey the truth? It was something that seemed like witchcraft; and we are told by Jerome that most of the leaders in heresy had great personal attractions. . We have similar testimony concerning the warriors and political leaders of antiquity. Alexander was beloved by his friends; Caesar was adored by his soldiers; Cicero, Cato, and even Antony, were men greatly beloved; Gustavus, Cromwell, Pitt, Bonaparte, the same. Even our blessed Saviour, supreme in power and divine majesty, did not disdain this golden key as unlocking the human heart. We have a remarkable proof of this in John xx. 17: Jesus saith unto her [i. e. Mary) touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my father. That this woman should have wished to embrace him, whom she must have regarded as almost a ghost, is a proof how great her affection. The spirit of the passage seems to be: “Ah, Mary, the hour of human friendship and fondness is at an end. I belong to the celestial family now; no more time must be spent in fond embraces; you may still love me, but love me as your risen Lord. For I ascend to my Father and your Father,
and to my God and your God." Paul, it is clear, won the affections of all with whom he came in contact; and it gave him immense power in preaching the gospel. Like Moses, we may say his face shone with benignity and love. The hardy centurion, the stern judge, the slave-owner, and the tyrant always favored him. No wonder he said to Timothy : Let no man despise thy youth. He had a right to put his admonition into this reflected form. He had proved the power of the passions over the action. How much significance is there in that simple declaration : And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends and refresh himself.: If Paul gave this fact to Luke, in the conduct of this centurion he modestly related his own.
The preacher of the obscurest parish is the hero of a little world ; and in that circumscribed sphere there is room for the greatest skill, and the exercise of the most gigantic virtues. It is true, there is a sense in which the world will hate the faithful preacher of righteousness. But it is a curious kind of hatred. If it has an underground of veneration, it often breaks down at the touch of a finger.
a finger. It is a hatred which, without a miracle, is most miraculously subdued.
This love is won, not by worldly art, or sacrificing high principle; but by a steady, manly course of discharging duty; by saying the right thing at the right time; by provoking no one, and cringing to no one; but moving, as the sun does, over the bogs and over the gardens, over the hills and over the vales, in the same steady, refulgent course and never clouded but by mists, which gather darkness only to be dissipated again.
But our concern is especially with preaching. This may be divided into two departments : the matter and the manner.
As to the matter, we have it provided at our hands in the richness of revelation. We draw from a fountain ever flowing and never exhausted. But we may be misled
3 Acts xxvii. 3.
11 Tim. iv. 12. Vol. XIX. No. 74.
even by truth, if we pervert its maxims and misunderstand their application. Even the example of Paul may mislead us, if we receive his words without his spirit. He was de termined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. But this maxim, like the wings of the condor, may support a long flight, because it covers a wide space. The gospel has one centre; but what a cir. cumference! Unity in variety is its character. The crucified Jesus is the light and the motive of how many doc trines; how many duties; how many hopes ; how many fears; how many songs ; how many praises ; how many prophecies; how much history! A whole universe of thought and glory revolves around this brilliant centre. The whole nature of man and the designs of God are wrapped up in that little expression. There is no want of affluence. then, in the subjects. The fountain is to be dispersed on every side in little rills for the refreshment of mankind.
The simple question, how it is to be presented to mankind, is answered in the Bible. It is presented especially in a historical form. History prepares the way and gives the exemplification. God lays his right to man's obedience in his benevolence and in creation. The first chapter of Genesis has something to do with the crucifixion. Eden, the Fall, the Antediluvian history, Abraham, the patriarchs. Sinai, the old dispensation, the rites, etc., all look to the central fact of our redemption. Yes, we must know nothing else than Jesus Christ, and him crucified; but the Bible is Christ's word; and whatever theme is there presented, in its boundless variety of facts, precepts, doctrines, and narra. tions, may teach us the unity of its design, and the copiousness of its executions.
I suppose a preacher may write a sermon on every text in the book of Proverbs, and not forget the theme of Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Be this your pattern, then, a many-colored circumference, wide and beautiful, revolving around one centre. Do not cramp a noble maxim in a narrow mind.
But the manner is also important. It is impossible to