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I claim the right to express my views freely on the subject, even at the risk of being thought censorious and fault-finding.
I. Is there not a great and growing deficiency in that kind of preaching which this age of the world imperatively demands? I am among the number who believe, unpopular as the doctrine is in many quarters, that the evangelical Pulpit has undergone, and is now undergoing, a serious and important change-a change on the whole for the worse, and truly alarming. In many respects it has unquestionably improved. There is less stiffness and dryness; less regard shown for human authority; less of the technicality and formula of the schools. There is more freedom and directness and boldness: there is a truer philosophy in many quarters, and often a better theology: a more popular and therefore effective exhibition of truth: a new fraternizing of the ministry with the people, and of the gospel with the masses: a wider range of thought and of the principles of Christianity in their social relations. There is more unction, more learning and literature, a higher rhetoric and oratory in the Pulpit of the present day, probably, than in any previous
And yet, after admitting all this, and more, if you please, is it not true that the Pulpit has lost, and is daily losing, that Scripture character and moral power in which its real strength and saving efficiency mainly consist? There is more of human wis dom and might, but less of the simple word and power of God in it. What preaching has gained in the particulars I have named, has it not more than lost in Scriptural simplicity and plainness-in piety and spirituality-in a divine ambition and unction; in that straightforward, honest, earnest dealing with sinners' consciences, which characterized the preaching of a past generation? A worldly ambition has crept into the pulpit to a fearful extent; mere talent is worshipped. The pride of learning and genius, the pride of science and philosophy, and the pride of popular oratory is rampant: There is an effort at greatness, a straining at originality, a showy ambitious rhetoric, a display of human parts and accomplishments, in sad keeping with the spirit and end of the gospel. There is, it cannot be denied, a great, a growing, and an alarming deficiency in that preaching which is a simple exhibition of God's Word. It is only necessary for a man of intelligence to put himself in a favorable position to observe and mark the flow of the popular current on this subject, especially as it is seen in our great cities and centres of influence, to see and feel the truth of this remark.
Compare the published sermons of the present day with the sermons of the old divines, and what a contrast! There is more of the spirit and power of the Bible in a single volume of Luther, or Baxter, or Edwards, than in a hundred of our day.
Let any one examine the twenty-six volumes of the " American National Preacher." Here are about seven hundred sermons from distinguished ministers of the various evangelical denominations in this country, which may be taken as a fair exhibition of the American Pulpit for more than a quarter of a century. One thing will strike the mind with painful surprise, on a careful examination of the work, viz., the manifest falling off in what may be called Bible preaching. The "Preacher" holds its own, it may be, as to talent, learning, literature, accomplishment -in all that constitutes the intellectual and the esthetic-but, alas! in deep piety and spirituality, in an earnest pleading with sinners, in moral power, as to the marrow and fatness of the gospel, one is constrained to say, "O the leanness, the leanness!" It does one's soul good to read the sermons in the earlier volumes from the pens of Mason, Green, Griffin, Alexander, Beecher, Rice, Skinner, Woods, Porter, Hyde, Dickinson, Spring, Humphrey, Fiske, Clarke, and Miller, and others like them, who then gave tone and power to our pulpit. There is an affluence of Scripture thought, language and illustration, a depth of Christian experience, a divine unction, a power of appeal, a grappling with the conscience, a masterly exhibition and application of the simple Word of God, that will move any man and stir the soul within him. And the successive Conductors of that highly useful work all complain of the difficulty of getting sermons of a Scriptural or practical character. While it were easy to obtain what are termed in the popular language of the times," talented" sermons, " brilliant sermons, "original" sermons, "learned and elaborate " sermons, "finished and polished" sermons, in any quantity, it is almost impossible to draw forth sermons so imbued with the spirit and power of the Bible as to be likely to convert souls, and feed and nourish a Scripture piety in the church. Either such sermons are not commonly preached now a days, or their authors have no confidence in them, and are ashamed to print them. There are some noble exceptions to this remark, and, what is a significant fact, they belong mainly to the older portion of the ministry. The change I speak of is more marked and common among our younger brethren, showing a serious defect either in their theological training, or in the models after which their pulpit taste and style have been formed.
Not long since, a godly and able minister said to a brother, "O that my pastor would give us something beside pretty flowers, and brilliant periods, and intellectual treats, and lofty flights of eloquence; my soul is famishing for the bread of lifeI long for something simple, nourishing, substantial." And yet that pastor occupies a very distinguished place among our younger preachers, and is the model after which not a few of them are seeking to form their own preaching.
This class of facts, and I apprehend the observation of you all will confirm and add to it, goes to show that there is a
lamentable deficiency in that kind of preaching which commends itself to men's consciences, and which alone God honors in the salvation of souls. God has never honored mere talent and learning and rhetoric and logic and accomplishment-however distinguished, in his ministers. "Not by might" of human strength and display, “nor by power" of worldly wisdom and gifts, "but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." The most gifted and popular ministry may be utterly barren of the "fruits of the Spirit." And are we not cursed with a curse-are not revivals of religion growing less and less frequent and general-are not pride and ambition and worldliness and the love of display and the spirit of unholy rivalry and dissension, creeping into the ministry and into all our churches, as, in part at least, the result of the deficiency here complained of? Is not this one of the main causes of that sad declension of religion over which we are called to mourn? May not this be the reason why the evangelical Pulpit of our day has so little power with the world?
I do know that there are not a few laymen in our churches, and, among the number, many distinguished for their intelligence, standing and worth, who grieve over this defect, and feel and do not hesitate to declare that the popular style of preaching is not to their taste; does not profit them; and who long for a more simple preaching of the Word of God. Daniel Webster expressed the feelings of thousands like him, in the church and out of it, when he said, in a criticism on a learned and able discourse to which he had listened, "If clergymen in our day would return to the simplicity of the gospel, and preach more to individuals and less to the crowd, there would not be so much complaint of the decline of true religion. Many of the ministers of the present day take their text from St. Paul and preach from the newspapers. When they do so, I prefer to enjoy my own thoughts rather than listen. I want my pastor to come to me in the spirit of the gospel, saying, Your are mortal; your probation is brief; your work must be done speedily. You are immortal too. You are hastening to the bar of God; the Judge standeth before the door.' When I am thus admonished, I have no disposition to muse or to sleep." The rebuke is deserved; would that we all might heed and profit by it!
It were not difficult to account for the change which has come over the pulpit in our day; the fault is in the times more than in the ministry. We live in a new age of the world. Twenty-five years have given birth to immense changes. We are flooded with new ideas. The boundaries of knowledge are greatly enlarged. A powerful impulse has been given to the human mind. Mankind have cut loose from old notions. New tastes and habits and forms of life have come into being. The sober and the real, the contemplative, the substantial and the supernatural, are displaced by the ideal, the excitable, the impulsive,
the showy, the fanciful, the natural and sensual. The life of man as a social being and a creature of earthly instincts and interests and duties, has been immensely quickened and augmented. And it is not wonderful in such a day, that God's own Book of moral and eternal truths, unchangeable, supernatural, and spiritual from their very nature-bodied forth to man in the language and forms of ancient modes of thought and life, and appealing only to the inner soul of man, should in a measure be despised and neglected. It is not strange that the ministry, seeing this, and themselves experiencing the baptism of this new dispensation, should often essay to fight this modern Goliath of awakened thought, of social change, of intellectual error, or religious indifference, with "carnal weapons"-the weapons of human wisdom and might-instead of "the simple sling and stones" out of the brook. But depend upon it, my brethren, we cannot cope successfully with the present race of giants with their own weapons. We cannot, in our calling, measure our strength with the world and prosper. Time was when learning and science and the arts and oratory were confined to the sanctuary, almost to the ministry. Then they were means of influence and of ascendency. But that day is past, and a new order of things exists. We can no longer excel in these things. We cannot cope with the professor's chair, with the lecture-room, with the secular press, even on this field. We have not the time nor the opportunity for it. We must arm ourselves with other weapons or we shall certainly lose ground. Our strength and sufficiency are in God alone, and in his inspired Word. Our lever is a moral one, having its fulcrum deep down in the human conscience; and the only effectual power we can apply to that lever is the simple authoritative Word of the living God. If ever there was an age of the world that demanded to have the voice of God, speaking to man in the Volume of inspiration, sounded out with clearness and with emphasis-an age demanding simple faith in God's all-sufficiency, in the power of supernatural Truth, eminent holiness and a special baptism of the Holy Ghost, in those who exercise the Gospel Ministry, that age is certainly the present.
II. I have already more than hinted at the kind of preaching demanded by the times. I mean what may be distinctively called BIBLE PREACHING. If asked to define this term I might be unable to do it definitely and precisely. I mean more by it than simple exposition or the use of scripture language, or doctrinal preaching. Four remarks will pretty clearly indicate what I understand by Bible Preaching.
1. The Holy Scriptures must obviously UNDERLIE all our teaching. They are the sole basis of our ministry. They are the substratum, and they are to furnish the entire subject matter of our sermons. We are not at liberty to go beyond the record
to introduce topics foreign to it-or to launch out into the wide and uncertain field of speculation. We are to ground every sermon upon the plain import of God's revealed Word. God has put his own inspired Scriptures into our hands "which are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus;" and it is our simple duty to explain, defend and enforce the teachings of these Divine Scriptures. And this foundation certainly is broad enough, and the topics and materials which the Scriptures furnish are varied and ample enough to occupy fully and exhaust the most capacious and well-furnished mind, so that we are without excuse in neglecting the Scriptures.
All this I suppose is readily admitted. And yet how much of the preaching of the day will not bear this test. How many sermons are preached that are entirely independent of the Bible in their cast and spirit, language and reasoning. Topics are introduced into the pulpit-matters of mere opinion and specula. tion are discussed-fields of thought and inquiry are traversed— well enough in their place, but as foreign to the main scope of the Scriptures and the salvation of sinners, as if Shakspeare, or Coleridge, or La Place were the text-book! Such preaching may attract admiring crowds, but it will not carry home conviction to the hearts of sinners and convert them from the error of their ways.
2. The Bible must be our decisive AUTHORITY in all our teaching. And that authority must be constantly acknowledged, made prominent, and appealed to as the sole warrant and power of our ministry. All the independent opinions and reasonings of men have but little weight in matters of religion. One text of Scripture directly to the point, is worth more than volumes of tradi tions, commentaries, speculations however learned and ingenious, and authorities. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." "To the law and the testimony;" if they are not made to bear out clearly our teaching-made the high court of appeal in all matters of doctrine and duty-if we do not show perfect confidence in the Bible and make the simple authority of God the right arm of our strength, our ministry will be essentially wanting; it will fail to convict and convert men.
The Bible, remember, assumes many things; and its simple statement of facts, doctrines and duties not only authoritatively settles the points involved which claim our attention, but after we have tried upon them all our ingenuity, learning and philosophy, we shall be no wiser than God's own Word makes us. How much preaching is thrown away, which, not satisfied with a "thus saith the Lord," with receiving the truth as matter of faith from the Word of God-seeks to reason it all out and make it matter of intellectual demonstration! I do believe that preaching loses immensely by coming down from the high vantageground of inspired truth to deal with the Bible much as we