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The bonds, which bind you to your religion, cannot be too numerous, or too strong; and it becomes you seriously to consider, whether you do not more essentially injure the interests of the gospel by openly neglecting one of its positive commands, than you would by making a profession, which you mighi, sometimes, indeed, be tempted to dishonour, but which God may give you the grace to adorn. This timidity is at least a weakness ; be careful, that it does not grow into a crime.
The time will not permit us to proceed further. These are only bints, wbich might be copiously illustrated, and thrown into a more argumentative form.
May God grant, that we, who, from a sense of obligation, I hope, assemble round this table, may be more and more constrained by the love of Christ, since he died for all, that they which live should henceforth not live unto themselves, but unto him, who died for them, and rose again.
LUKE. vill. 18.
TAKE NEED HOW YI HLAR.
appears, at first view, astonishing, that so little effect should be perceptibly produced in society by a long established system of public instruction on topics the most important to mankind. It would seem incredible to one, who, for the first time, was 'made acquainted with our institutions of religion, tbat such a provision for weekly worship, teaching, admonition and consolation, should long exist without a more sensible and eminent effect on the minds and manners of the community. He would conclude, that, without some serious incompetency in the teacher, or blame in his audience, the facts and precepts contained in the gospel, which relate to the everlasting well-being of mankind, could not be heard without greater effect. That the inefficiency of public instruction is, in some degree, to be attributed to the incompetency, infirmities, or mistakes of preachers I am not disposed to deny. Let us take it for granted in the outset, for 10 discuss it at lengih, would be unprofitable to you, and false bumility in the preacher.
From these remarks, however, let it not be inferred, that we are disposed to deny the utility of preaching. There is, undoubtedly, a secret and permanent influence flowing from our public instiiutions of religion, which can be thoroughly understood and fairly estimated only if God, in his displeasure, should call us to witness the consequences of the complete abolition of them.
The efficacy of preaching appears more inconsiderable, than it really is, from this circumstance, that, of those who regularly attend upon it, few are guilty of babitual enormities and open vices. The sins, against which we find it most necessary to preach, are those hidden biasses of the heart, that worldly spirit, that babitual selfishness, and that religious torpor, which are not, if I may so speak, limbs, which may be cut off, but slow diseases, which are to be cured, and cured not by a single application, but by a long course of moral regimen and exercise. Hence, to pursue the allusion, the influence of the christian ministry is not to be seen in the leaping of the lame, the recovery of sight to the blind, the raising of the dead, or in the conversion of thousands from one religion and course of life to another, as in a day of Pentecost ; but rather in strengthening the weak organs, in guarding the careless against infection, and in gradually improring, as far as may be, the tone of the religious system, and the health of the religious community.
These general remarks may serve to show, that public instruction among us is not so inefficacious as it might at first appear to be, and that, if no other good effects could be stated to flow from it, yet the evil secretly prevented, and the melioration secretly induced, are more than a recompense for the labours of those, who are engaged in supporting these institutions. The object of the present discourse, however, is not so much to account for the inadequate effects
of preaching on the great mass of mankind, as to lead the attention of those, who are habitually bearers of the word, and profess a respect for religion and its institutions, to consider some important prevalent errors, prejudices, and sins, which impede, and
, often destroy, the beneficial influence of religion on their hearts and minds.
1. You will agree with me, no doubt, in the first place, that, till the attention is gained, ibe labours of the preacher are vain. Some of the impediments to this attention and confidence are to be found in the prejudices, in which we allow ourselves toward individuals. We will hardly consent to learn our duty, except from a particular nouth. We suspect one man of beresy ; and, of course, all that he delivers has a tinge of this leprosy, and therefore effectually prevents all contact with our mind. Another is avoided as too damnatory, or too metaphysical, too clamorous, or too severe. We suffer ourselves to waver with popular changes; to lose our confidence in one favourite, when he is no longer the first; or to turn away from another, because we are familiar with his manner, and he no longer offers novelties.
When we first inquire into the reputation of a preacher, or measure ihe precise limits of bis creed, before we venture to trust ourselves with him, or when we come with minds prepared to hear with captiousness, or not to hear through aversion, it is not wonderful, that so much of the natural influence of instruction should be wasted. It is true, that prejudices and partialities are not to be avoided; and, perhaps, when they are unattended with correspondent aversions, are more salutary than injurious, on the whole. Yet, when we find ibat the preaching of some men appears to us barren and unfruitful, it is surely worth while to inquire, where the fault exists; and to decide, which is most easy, natural, and just, that we should accommodate our
selves to the preachers method of teaching, or that tbe preacher should be expected to suit the peculiar tastes and previous notions and capacities of hundreds of minds.
The different reception of the same preachers, in different assemblies, is finely illustrated in the his. tory of Paul. Upon his arrival at Athens, the Epicureans and Stoics were all prepared to expose the new apostle to derision, and went round inquiring, What will this babbler say? At Lystra, on the contrary, the city was all enthusiasm and admiration ; The gods, say they, have come down to us in the Jikeness of men. The sentiment of the apostle, in his reply, is admirable. We are men of like passions with you; but we are also ministers of the most High God, who show unto you the way of salvation, and our duty and your's is equally simple, and serious, independent of the passions and partialities of men.
2. The effect of preaching depends much, in the second place, on the disposition, which we are in the Jiabit of bringing with us to public worship. For what purpose, my friends, are you assembled here? Not surely to set an example to others. If this were the only reason of your meeting, for what purpose, let me ask, are ihose others assembled ? There must be some ground for this custom, besides example, otherwise ihose, whose example is of no value, would have no reason to assign for their worship. No, my friends, I trust, that every one is sensible, that ihe same God, who made, and preserves, and governs us all, demands of you the same homage, wbich he demands of otbers ; and that what you receive in common deserves to be acknowledged in common. Your obligations are not altered, except as they are increased, by the difference of your circumstances, or your improvements. The instructions bere given are not nicely adjusted to any particular stations or characters, but are of consequence to us all as moral, accountable and immortal