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some,” he says, “ have compassion, making a difference; others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire."
The preacher, at the present day, has to make a difference ; always preaching truth, but holding different aspects and phases of truth, according to the varying purposes to be accomplished, or cases to be met. Now, he speaks in a tone of sharp rebuke; again, in a strain of winning tenderness. To-day he employs rigid, compact argument. The next Sabbath, he pours from a warm heart, the simple, fervid appeal. In one discourse, the soothing, the consolatory predominates; in another, truths and considerations, adapted to alarm and agitate. In all, he preaches truth ; but truths of varying temper and tone, such as in his judgment will the most accurately meet (and benefit) the diverse cases and characters before him.
Having, now, glanced at the method of effecting this prescribed division of truth, in other words, presented some of the detail, involved in a compliance with the injunction of the apostle, I proceed to consider ihe difficulties and embarrassments which the preacher commonly meets with, while endeavoring, in style and doctrine, to adjust his messages to the diverse characters and wants existing among his people. He soon finds it is a very nice and responsible matter, and that injury may be effected, when he means only good. Even when he commits no mistake, verges 10 no extreme, some evil may come of his effort. His position often is like that of the physician, called to a patient laboring under a complication of diseases. The prescription which mitigates one class of symptoms, aggravates another class. The distinctive style of truth which meets and benefits one hearer, tending to one extreme of opinion or feeling, operates unfavorably upon another hearer, who is tending to the opposite extreme. I will illustrate by some instances of not unfrequent occurrence.
The minister has in mind, a desponding portion of his flock. They are always looking on the dark side of things,-making their case the very worst they can,—refusing to admit that degree of hope which is necessary as an incitement to effort. He prepares a sermon for their special benefit. He presses into it all the encouragement he dares to,-makes it as bright and winning as truth will admit. To the class for whom it was designed, it does good, perhaps. But the preacher is embarrassed with the fear, that another class will receive injury from it. Those who were loo forward before,—too ready to build themselves up, may be induced by the discourse, to hope, when they have no good reason to hope. They seize hold of what was intended for others, and pervert it to their own delusion and ruin.
Again, the preacher feels called upon, to make a very strong presentation and appeal, to arrest, if possible, a large class in the assembly, who are persisting in a course of perilous delay. He feels that strong measures, startling announcements are demanded by the gathering exigency of their condition. He selects the passage, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” He speaks plainly of the sin which has no forgiveness. He holds forth in vividness, the fact, that there is somewhere a line darkly drawn across the sinner's path, over which if he passes, he is beyond the pale of possible salvation ; and he affirms the probability, that many after repeated seasons of the Spirit's vistation, do come into this state of premature reprobation.
The appeal does good. The slumbering are aroused; the presumptuous inspired with salutary caution. There are others, it may be but one or two, who are driven alınost to despair by this aspect of truth,-persons quaking with the apprehension, that they have committed the unpardonable sin, and held back from all effort to obtain mercy, by the ever-brooding belief, that with them the day of mercy has finally closed. The considerate preacher cannot but be alive to the sear, lest while drawing out this terrific style of truth, he overwhelm, in absolute gloom and discouragement, some minds, whom a gentler and more attractive message might have decoyed to the regions of hope.
Again, there are some in every congregation who regard it as a very easy thing to become religious. They have little concern about the matter, for they can step into the kingdom of Christ whenever they please. All they have to do, is to sin circumspectly ; look out and not let death get the start of them, and they will come out safe in the end. Repentance is easy, the work of a few moments, and heaven is gained. There are others who pretend to believe, that they have no sort of power whatever to move in this matter. As they are absolutely belpless, of course cannot do the work, nor take any step towards it, they have only to sit supinely down and wait for the Spirit of God to come and convert them.
To meet the former class the preacher deems it necessary to come forth clearly in proof and exposure of the sioner's weakness and ruin,—that while there is no strength in himself, the work he is called upon to do, is a work of immense difficulty. The sinner is shown that his deliverance does not lie so absolutely with himself as he supposes,—that he is dependent upon divine power, a power wbich may be justly wiihheld, and if withheld," he will assuredly perish. To all this, the latter class very reverently bow assent. They suck deadly poison out of these leaves of life. By a slight perversion, they turn what should awaken them, into opiates to make more profound, the already leaden sleep of death. So on the other hand, when we press on the last mentioned class, obligation, and ability as the ground of it, the former class push our position to an extreme, and presumptuously infer, that in the final exigency, they can wake
up and walk forth in the freedom and joy of God's own children.
Again, when atonement is our theme, especially when setting forth the fulness of this provision, its adequacy for one world or a thousand; when striving to make the impression deep and productive, that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin, no matter how aggravated the transgressions, how high they have arisen, all will be washed away on the first throb of penitence, or look and reliance of faith, we feel that we are in danger of throwing some beams of encouragement upon a career of guilt. Some one will be ready with the perverse deduction,—“ if a Saul has been forgiven, a Gardiner, a Rochester, a Newton redeemed, then I may venture to grow up to any stature in crime, and the same provisions will avail for me.”
We cannot concentrate and pile on the hearts of the young all the motives to early piety, without filling the horizon of the aged with portentous blackness.
We cannot blot out the common delusory expectation of a death-bed preparation for eternity, by showing its almost absolule impossibility, without wounding the sensibilities of many before us, whose departed friends left no other evidence that they are at rest, than the agitated prayers and repentings which mingled with the death struggle.
We cannot come forth, pointedly in exposure and reproof of particular sins, in the practice of which, certain hearers are at the time engaged, without the hazard of awaking feelings of hostility which it would be far more pleasant to the preacher to have allayed and sleeping.
It may be thought by some, that, if there are these evils, these difficulties, these opportunities for perversion incident to the dividing and appropriative style of dispensing truth, it is better on the whole to keep to very general and abstract statements. We admit, by this latter course, the preacher may avoid the doing of some harm, which in the other method, he would be liable to do. However, it is quite certain he would accomplish but little good. The physician, with his complex case, by abstaining from all definite prescription, would be sure not to kill his patient. It would be equally sure, that the patient would die of his disease, notwithstanding the skill and good wishes of the physician.
We are prepared then to state in the third place, that the dividing and appropriating style of dispensing truth, with all its difficulties and hazards, is indispensable to the permanent and extended success of the ministry.
This appropriate meting out of our messages is necessary on account of the spiritual ignorance which prevails. How few under the blinding influence of sin, know what they need. The preacher does know definitely. Shall he then bring forth the particular truth, or aspect of truth, and direct to those hearts, or shall he bring forth a vast and diverse mass, and leave them and others to select out from it, what in their judgment, may best befit them ;-about as sane a procedure, and about as profitable too, as it would be for the physician to go before his worst cases, open his medicine chest, and ask his patients to help themselves.
The course we are advocating is necessary in order to orer. come the insensibility of men. How profound is the insensibility of the world on the subject of sin and salvation. How ex. ceedingly difficult to make any encroachments upon the widespread, total sleep of moral death ;-sinners, and they do not feel it; on the verge of perdition, and they do not see it; warned with the thunder's tone, invited with angel's sweetness, and they do not heed it.
The only power of truth to arrest attention, and awaken feeling and interest lies in its appropriate, definite statement. lo making this remark we only declare the result of all observation and experience. Take the doctrine of depravity. There are those to be found who are great sinners in the general, but very good sort of people in the detail. Preach to such persons faithfully and fully, human apostasy, the entireness of man's moral ruin ; they agree to it all; and they will go home, and turn the serinon into a consession, and acknowledge before God, that they are by nature and practice, essentially and radically pollu
ted. But if we bring out and set home upon the same class, their predominant, characteristic sin, very likely we incur for the moment wrath and repulsion. At the same time, we are in the way of doing them some good; for we have broken in upon the iron reign of death. No matter what the point is, if the statement is accordant with fact, the picture vivid, graphic, true to the lise, so as to compel a response from this bosom and that, and erect this conscience and that into an accuser, with the keen home thrust, “ Thou art the man,” we have gained a great matter, we have a hold upon the attention. The moment the hearer feels the preacher's hand in contact with any part of his moral nature, -of his character or his conduct, whether it be with assuaging intent, to pour in the healing oil, or with salutary severity, to probe the festering sore, he cannot be indifferent. He is alive to every movement, and will continue to be, so long as the keen instrument of truth is traversing the bidden fountains, yea, the very throbbing fibres of feeling within bim. Always when the preacher is so distinctive and characteristic in his message as to draw out to portions of bis audience, and exbibit to them their own image, the eyes and ears, mind and heart will be open, while that message is being delivered. This is the fact. I go into no explanation of it. The fact is notorious. Hence the authority with which Christ taught. His blindest, hardest opposers very generally found out, ere he closed, that he spake of them, that the truth employed, had an intense and smarting fitness to their own characters,—and they went away with an arrow quivering and rankling at their vitals. Hence the power of John the Baptist, when he stood before his' princely auditor, the impure Herod. The sentence and the sentiment, which smote and distressed him was, “ it is not lawful for thee to have her.” Hence too the agitating effect, when Paul preached to the sensual and oppressive Felix. It was when he reasoned of righteousness and temperance and judgment-truths and topics keenly correspondent to the vicious dispositions of the man, that the august sinner trembled. Hence too the unparalleled result, when Peter addressed the congregated murderers of his Lord. It was not a loose, scattered homily upon sin and repentance. He came upon them with definite, fitting truth, in dread concurrence with an already armed and exasperated conscience : “Ye denied the Holy One and Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and ye killed the Prince of Life whom God hath raised from the dead.”