Imágenes de página

sermon, though IIe was not given to formal statements in His public addresses, it would be very easy to draw a creed from His utterances. One could begin with, " I believe in God, the Father, Almighty,” and, without doing violence to the discourse, come far down into the Westminster Catechism.

There are occasions when gentle and soothing words only are in place; there are times when the children should be taken with guile and taught truth before they are aware of it; you may tell them a story which is more than a story in the recollection. But such preaching is only exceptional. It becomes mawkish as soon as we have a litlle too much of it. Preaching, to be respectable even, must ordinarily have a clear and obvious relation to important truth. Though sermons need not often attempt to prove that revelation is well ordered, that Christian doctrines stand of themselves, still they should always imply that the gospel is everlasting truth, that its precepts have a reality and a relation to human society, that they are seed, good seed, and that in good soil they will bring forth fruit.

It is a question for the preacher, and for the theological seminaries, therefore, how the evils of doctrinal preaching shall be avoiderl, and its advantages secured. In questions of this kind it is often said, there is a golden mean, and the problem is solved or put aside by spiitting the difference. But this is an indolent way of settling any question, and in the present case can be of no practical value. There is such a difference in congregations, that some need all the doctrinal preaching they will bear every Sabbath day; while others are already sufficiently instructed to be profited by hortatory or narrative discourses.

The only direction which can be given which will meet every demand in the case is this: the preacher should himself be thoroughly imbued with Christian doctrine. He should go quite beyond that stage of culture which implies that he has read one or tiro of the best treatises on each of the doctrines, and implies that he is able to state the current and orthodox opinion; he should be imbued with Christian doctrine, think it and be guided to other thought by it; he should be so well acquainted with the doctrines as to be able to find his

way from one to the other without the aid of heaten tracks, for he should be familiar with the connection of doctrines. He should be able to see all the doctrines as a unit, and know them, not as separate skeletons, but as harmonized and combined, growing compactly together, as all the members of the Church in the Lord grow into a holy temple. Preachers who have thus a mastery of the science of theology can use the doctrines for the good of their hearers, and under the guidance of their own instincts, will bring them forward at the proper time, in the right proportions. Such preachers will not repel an audience, by showing the bare timbers of a sermon- --a thing too often identical with doctrinal preaching. It is the man who is aware of his own defect, who is conscious that he ought to teach more doctrine, and resolves to try, who brings illjointed lumber into the house of God, and sets up his scaffolding in the sight of the audience. But here, as in every other department of labor, the man who is master of his work works easily–1:0 one knows that he works at all. Hearers may lis. ten to such a one and go lome and not know, till they think over the day's instruction, that that sermon meant election, and that another showed that Christ must be God. I do not way all doctrinal preaching should be in such forms, but a pastor should be able to present it in such ways, and then much more can he present it, when occasion requires, with doctrinal statements, with arguments and refutations. I invite attention, then, to some considerations which show that thorough acquaintance with systematic theology is of essential advantage to the preacher.

1. A knowledge of systematic theology is an essential aid to the preacher in understanding the Bible. There are certain periods in the history of the Church where the phrases, "the Bible the only creed," "the Bible a sufficient creed,” become populár. The cry is generally started by well-meaning persons who have been repelled by harsh and dry discussions in theology. It is, however, for the most part, the watchword of weak men, and never can become an accepted proverb of interligent Christians. There is danger, however, that at times it may here and there give a wrong tendency to the views and feelings of Christian communities. The sentiment on which the assertion is founded is a mistaken one, and its unsound. ness ought sometimes to be exposed.

The Bible makes great demands on the good sense and sound judgment of its readers. It is peculiarly characterized by gaps, and seems specially indifferent to the praise of consistency. It does, indeed, as a whole, when thoroughly understood, and when the principles implied in it are supplied, justify itself, and appear capable of defending itself, but it expects that those who attempt to interpret it will bring with them entire candor, and the ready admission of those laws on which belief is founded.

The Bible was written by different men, who wrote the truth as they saw it, without supposing themselves called upon to bring their statements into harmony with the views of those who should write after them, or of those who had written before them. One said, "God is a rock;" another, “He is Spirit." One said, "God is love;" another said, “He is a terrible God.” One said, “ He is a jealous God;" another said, "He

" ' is slow to anger.” In one place it is written that the pure

in heart shall see God; in another place it is said, He is a Being whom no man bath seen or can see; in one place it is said, if any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, so that the sin can be passed over; in another place it is said, if one fall away it is impossible to renew him unto repentance; sometimes it is said that God hardens the sinner's heart; at other times it is said that he hardens his own heart; by the mouth of one of His servants God says, “turn ye, turn ye, for why


[ocr errors]

will ye die,” but Christ says, “no man can come to Me except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him;" we are told that every man is to be judged according to his deeds, and we are told again that our salvation is not for works of righteousness which we have done, but according to the grace of God in Christ. Now these diverse assertions are not contradictions ; -but why not? Because every person is expected to compare them one with another, and elicit the meaning of the different assertions when reconciled. Let any one write down this meaning in the cold language of the intellect, and he has already began his creed. And the time will come, as he proceeds with his study of the Word of God, when he will need the aid of all kis philosophy and of all the wisdom embodied in his digest of doctrine, in order to interpret some of the passages of the Holy Word. Any one who takes the Bible for his guide must still look well to his own opinions to make sure that he does not consider God the author of sin, or else consider man independent of God's control. The reader of the Bible will have some trouble in deciding what its creed is on the questions of election and reprobation. Which is the doctrine of the Bible: that God would not have any perish, or that Pharaoh was raised up to show by his perdition that God is a ruler severe and just?

There is a still more fundamental reason why settled opin. ions in systematic theology are a necessity for a thorough understanding of the Bible. Revelation presupposes natural theology. The Bible, therefore, which is a narrative of the revelations which God has made, does not teach the most elementary doctrines of religion. It is assumed that men are in possession of these, and that they need a revelation to carry on and complete a scheme of doctrines, perhaps I should say beliefs, which is already begun.

The Bible does not formally teach the existence of God. It implies that existence; but let it be denied, and then what is the Bible worth ? or let one attempt to prove from the Bible

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


the existence of God, and on what is his argument founded ? The Bible as a fact in nature may be of service in proving the divine existence, but only through the laws of natural belief. We must have a firm faith in God's existence and in His providence before we can establish the divine authority of the Scriptures. And we must also have a firm faith in the spirituality of man, his immortality, the connection of his destiny in the future with his conduct here, or we can see no need of the Scriptures, and therefore can have no faith in a revelation from God. And one must find his own study of human nature, his study of himself, confirmatory of the assertions of the Bible as to human guilt and corruption, or he will not believe in the need of a divine sacrifice for sin. And with the loss of this doctrine, ihe divinity of Christ, the doctrines of atonement and regeneration lose their practical importance, and then drop out from the popular faith.

It requires only observation and a knowledge of history to assure us, that a salse philosophy on questions of right, wrong, and guilt, leads to wrong interpretations of the Scriptures, and a creed which our churches must most decidedly reject.

I do not intend to affirm that those who undervalue system in theology must hold to essential error, but I believe they are kept from error by those who are stronger in soul than themselves, those whose spirits are exercised more deeply on questions which the Bible does not discuss directly, but on which still it is founded. Those who despise creeds are an easy prey to infidelity, or at least to skepticism. Those who hold that the Bible is a sufficient creed, will have but imperfect views of inspiration, of the character of Christ, of the need of regeneration, and finally, of Christian virtue.

Nor is there any gain even for the rhetorical or the poetical preacher in abjuring system in his theology. He must, when he comes to speak of the truths of the Scriptures, say, "I believe," "I so understand the word of God," "It is in this way that I interpret that which is revealed.” He therefore

« AnteriorContinuar »