« PreviousContinue »
AT THE ORDINATION OF THE REV. E. S. GANNETT.
MATTHEW X. 16.
BEHOLD, I SEND YOU FORTH AS SHEEP IN TIIE MIDST OF WOLVES: BE YE
THEREFORE WISE AS SERPENTS AND HARMLESS AS DOVES.
The communication of moral and religious truth is the most important office committed to men. The Son of God came into the world, not to legislate for nations, not to command armies, not to sit on the throne of universal monarchy; but to teach religion, to establish truth and holiness. The highest end of human nature is duty, virtue, piety, excellence, moral greatness, spiritual glory; and he, who effectually labors for these, is taking part with God, in God's noblest work. The christian ministry, then, which has for its purpose men's spiritual improvement and salvation, and which is intrusted for this end with weapons of heavenly temper and power, deserves to be ranked amongst God's most beneficent institutions and men's most honorable labors. The occasion requires that this institution should be our principal topic.
How happy a change has taken place since the words of Christ in the text were spoken! Ministers are no longer sent forth into the midst of wolves. Through the labors, sufferings, and triumphs of apostles, martyrs, and good and great men in successive ages, Christianity has become the professed and honored religion of the most civilized nations, and its preachers are exposed to very different temptations from those of savage persecution. Still our text has an application to the present time. We see our Saviour commanding his apostles, to regard in their ministry the circumstances of the
age in which they lived. Surrounded with foes, they were to exercise the wisdom or prudence, of which the serpent was in ancient times the emblem, and to join with it the innocence and mildness of the dove. And in like manner, the christian minister is at all periods to regard the signs, the distinctive marks and character of the age to which he belongs, and must accommodate his ministry to its wants and demands. Accordingly, I propose to
I consider some of the leading traits of the present age, and the influence which they should have on a christian teacher.
1. The state of the world, compared with the past, may be called enlightened, and requires an enlightened ministry. It hardly seems necessary to prove, that religion should be dispensed by men, who at least keep pace with the intellect of the age in which they live. Some passages of scripture however have been wrested to prove, that an unlearned ministry is that which God particularly honors. He always chooses, we are told, • the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.' But texts of this description are misunderstood, through the very ignorance which they are adduced to support. The wise, who are spoken of contemptuously in the New Testament, were not really enlightened men, but pretenders to wisdom, who substituted dreams of imagination and wild hypotheses for sober inquiry into God's works, and who knew comparatively nothing of nature or the human mind. The present age has a quite different illumination from that, in which ancient philosophy prided itself. It is marked by great and obvious improvements in the methods of reasoning and inquiry, and by the consequent discovery and diffusion of a great mass of physical and moral truth, wholly unknown in the time of Christ. Now we affirm, that such an age demands an enlightened ministry. We want teachers, who will be able to discern and unfold the consistency of revealed religion with the new lights which are breaking in from nature; and who will be able to draw, from all men's discoveries in the outward world and in their own souls, illustrations, analogies, and arguments for Christianity. We have reason to believe, that God, the author of nature and revelation, has established a harmony between them, and that their beams are intended to mingle and shed a joint radiance; and consequently, other things being equal, that teacher is best fitted to dispense Christianity, whose compass of mind enables him to compare what God is teaching in his works and in his word, and to present the truths of religion with those modifications and restraints which other acknowledged truths require. Christianity now needs dispensers, who will make history, nature, and the improvements of society, tributary to its elucidation and support; who will show its adaptation to man as an ever progressive being ; who will be able to meet the objections to its truth, which will naturally be started in an active, stirring, inquiring age; and though last not least, who will have enough of mental and moral courage to detect and renounce the errors in the Church, on which such objections are generally built. In such an age, a
ministry is wanted, which will furnish discussions of religious topics, not inferior at least in intelligence to those, which people are accustomed to read and hear on other subjects. Christianity will suffer, if at a time, when vigor and acuteness of thinking are carried into all other departments, the pulpit should send forth nothing but wild declamation, positive assertion, or dull commonplaces, with which even childhood is satiated. Religion must be seen to be the friend and quickener of intellect. It must be exhibited with clearness of reasoning and variety of illustration ; nor ought it to be deprived of the benefits of a pure and felicitous diction and of rich and glowing imagery, where these gifts fall to the lot of the teacher. It is not meant that every minister must be a man of genius ; for genius is one of God's rarest inspirations; and of all the breathings of genius, perhaps the rarest is eloquence. I mean only to say, that the age demands of those, who devote themselves to the administration of Christianity, that they should feel themselves called upon for the highest cultivation and fullest developement of the intellectual nature. Instead of thinking, that the ministry is a refuge for dulness, and that whoever can escape from the plough is fit for God's spiritual husbandry, we ought to feel that no profession demands more enlarged thinking and more various acquisitions of truth.
In proportion as society becomes enlightened, talent acquires influence. In rude ages bodily strength is the most honorable distinction, and in subsequent times military prowess and skill confer mastery and eminence. But as society advances, mind, thought, becomes the sovereign of the world ; and accordingly, at the present moment, profound and glowing thought, though breathing only from the silent page, exerts a kind of omnipo