Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

be questioned. The example of prophets, apostles, and Christ himself, are decisive on the subject ; as the reason of the case would seem to be, even were no example left on record. For, who can imagine that our Saviour should have taught so plainly and so publicly, that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, and that spiritual renovation is necessary to our inheriting eternal life, had he designed that these truths should be suppressed, by those who preach his gospel? Or, who can imagine, that it should be no part of a preacher's duty to state the terms, on which salvation may be obtained, and the consequences of rejecting them? But I am now speaking of the manner, in which unwelcome truths are to be exhibited.

It cannot have escaped the remark of any person, addicted to much observation on the consequences of preaching, that the same doctrines, delivered with equal clearness, are differently received, as coming from different preachers. This difference is, doubtless, to be attributed to their diversity of manner. No person, indeed, ought to be offended with the truth, on account of the manner in which it is proclaimed. But, to this it is important to add, that no preacher ought so to proclaim it, as to produce unnecessary offence. If truth is better than error, and if it is important that men should not reject the truth, it becomes, in the same proportion, a duty in ministers to preach it in such manner, as is least likely to create prejudice. This is so plain a proposition, that it stands in need, neither of repetition nor comment. It seems sometimes to be imagined, that, unless evangelical truth is conveyed in language known to be most offensive, and in a manner the least conciliating and gracious, a criminal sacrifice is made to the prejudices of men, or to our own ease and reputation. In this sentiment, permit me to ask, whether there is either truth, or justice, or wisdom ? Sounds, in themselves considered, have no connexion with piety or salvation. Is the eternal welfare of men more secure, because the truth is conveyed to their minds in one set of arbitrary signs, rather than in another ? Every upright minister of Jesus Christ, may feel himself bound to preach that, which, he has reason to fear, will, to some, be matter of offence. But he, who chooses to give offence, chooses to excite prejudice against the gospel. And what is this but choosing that the very design of his ministry should be frustrated ? A condescending prince, let it be imagined, commissions his servants to offer a full amnesty to disorderly-subjects, on condition of their becoming obedient to the government in future. This servant may, to these subjects, represent, in plain terms, their present danger and the certainty of punishment, should the terms of forgiveness be rejected. But surely the lord of this servant will not applaud him, for executing his commission in a manner the most offensive, and least favorable to the great object, for which he was sent,

Nothing tends so directly to disarm opposition, as a conviction, that the only reason, why a preacher exhibits unwelcome doctrines, is because he dares not suppress them; because he would, by all means, save his own soul, and the souls of them who hear him; and because he is impelled by feelings similar to those of the prophet, when he said : I have not desired the woeful day, O Lord, Thou knowest. Different, indeed, is the character of that minister, and different will be the impression, which he makes on the minds of an audience, who, through the medium of sacred truth, gratifies some of the most un hallowed feelings of the human heart, and then congratulates himself on his own fidelity and boldness, in defending sound principles and in exhibiting to sinners their true character.

You will ask, perhaps, is it not important that sinners should be made to feel? I answer, yes. But what should they feel? Displeasure and prejudice against the speaker, or conviction of their own demerit, and contrition on account of having violated the divine law ? You ask again, whether the sinner's character is not to be carefully investigated, and his wounds thoroughly explored. I answer, yes. But there is a great difference between the necessary operations of a humane physician, who participates the pain which he occasions, and the work of an executioner, who pleases himself with every new opportunity of showing how much address and apathy his vocation has taught him.

Respecting both the language to be used, and the temper displayed by teachers of religion, the sacred Scriptures give us clear directions : The preacher, said Solomon, chose out acceptable words, even words of truth. Truth is not to be sacrificed to acceptable language; but such terms are to be used, as shall render truth least offensive and most effectual. As to the temper of a Christian pastor, St. Paul has left on record the following remark : The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men, in meekness instructing those that oppose themelves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgement of the truth.

II. Cautions against giving offence may be necessary, in regard to ordinary deportment.

The minister of Christ is to give no offence by unchristian levity. On the importance of preaching seriously, some remarks have already been made. But, in the various parts of a character, there ought doubtless to be a consistency. Habitual levity cannot be indulged by men, who have in view a great object. This results from our natures. Such an object, by absorbing the attention, prevents smaller things from gaining access to the mind; or, if not, a comparison between them and that great object, to the contemplation of which the inind is accustomed, shows how unworthy the former are to engross human anxiety. It is asserted of that illustrious warrior and statesman, who is so justly the boast of our nation, that, during the more critical years of the revolutionary contest, he was seldom known to indulge the least hilarity. The reason is obvious. He felt as a man on whose shoulders rested the burden of a nation's cares. The Christian minister has an object still more momentous. In his view are life and immortality; and this, in relation, not only to himself, but to his people. I do not say, that all these considerations united should produce severity of mein ; much less moroseness. But surely, in such a character, caution and gravity are indispensable. He will find no tiine for unprofitable amusement, or gay conversation, and little, I should think, for any visits, but such as are pastoral; by which I mean those, that, being improved for the purpose of giving religious instruction or advice, contribute to the great object of his sacred office.

No man, and least of all, a minister, can be justified in wasting his time. He has, therefore, no leisure to enter curiously into the concerns of other men, further than pastoral duty may require. Nor unless impelled by hard necessity, can he be justified in prosecuting any employment foreign to the ministry.

So far as the Christian temper prevails, it will produce a happy union of gravity and mildness. The absence of either of these implies a very injurious defect in the character of a religious instructor.

“He bore his great commission in his look ;

“But sweetly tempered awe, and softened all he spoke !" How these virtues were exhibited in the ministry of St. Paul, will appear from the following passages: Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, justly and unblamably, we behaved ourselves among you. Ye know how we exhorted and charged every one of you, as a father doth bis children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you to his kingdom and glory.-We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.

III. At a time, when peculiar boldness is indulged in theological speculation, any minister of Christ may be called upon to defend what he believes to be the faith, once delivered to the saints. To do this with ingenuity and triumphant success, may appear to him the principal thing—all indeed, which is entitled to regard. But, let it be remembered, that intellectual abilities are perfectly distinct from the Christian temper. The latter is that more excellent way, in comparison of which there is little value even in the possession of miraculous pow

It is perfectly possible, that an able defence of what are justly denominated the vital principles of Christianity, may ex

ers.

hibit a state of feelings, over which these principles have little or no control. Persons may contend for the mastery, not less on religious subjects, than in other species of controversy. When the leading doctrines of Christianity are defended with an irreligious temper, the injury is twofold ; first, the irritation, which will thus be produced in the mind of an opponent, will tend to close the avenues, at which conviction might otherwise enter ; secondly, he will conclude, not justly, indeed, but with great plausibility, that principles, whether true or false, can have little value, which have done nothing towards subduing the pride or passion of one, who defends them. Every theological disputant must be constrained to acknowledge, that ungoldly feelings, so far as they prevail, are more criminal in himself, than in his adversary; for this obvious reason, that he professes to have better views of divine truth, wbich enable him more distinctly to perceive his duty. He acts, therefore, by his own acknowledgement, in opposition to greater light, and stronger obligations. However pacific the spirit which Christianity breathes, it does by no means condemn all theological controversy. There may be circumstances, in which it will be our duty, not only to contend, but to do it earnestly. Thus far we have apostolic authority. The same authority further asserts, that he who striveth, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The temper of Christ must be displayed by those, who defend his doctrine. They are bound to act with all candor, probity, and fairness. If a man has fallen into gross and dangerous error, he has not thereby lost those rights, which are common to every rational being. We are bound to speak nothing but truth concerning him. If we are required to feed an enemy, when hungry, and clothe him, when naked, we are surely bound not to treat an opponent with injustice. If he has talents, or learning, or suavity of temper, or maintains an irreproachable moral character, for these qualities he is to be allowed full credit. Nor are his faults to be mentioned with greater severity, than similar failings, when they appear in persons of better sentiments. No undue advantages are to be ta

« AnteriorContinuar »