Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

part to others the knowledge of our opinions and desires, and of facts with which we are acquainted. The interests of society require that our language should be a correct representation of what we think. In making statements of facts, which may have influ. ence upon the political and religious opinions of men, and may affect the whole course of their lives; or in making historical records of events, perversion of language to purposes of deception is universally denounced. But not only falsehood thus meets with reprobation. Concealment of truth, defective or partial views of truth, feeble representations of what ought universally to be known as important facts or opinions, may expect the censure of the wise and good. Much more in him, “ Who negociates between God and man,

-as God's ambassadorand who is a public advocate and expounder of a revelation which purports to be from heaven, the reception or rejection of which will fix man's weal or wo forever,”-much more in him do we demand the annunciation of truth, of the whole truth, of truth unperverted by human opinion, of truth undisguised and uninjured by the medium through which it is presented.

The public teacher of religion having proposed to make a simple, perspicuous, and forcible statement of divine truth, will by adhering to this purpose, be saved from an unworthy attention to mere language. While he avails himself of the power of language, distinctly to explain and cogently to enforce divine truth, he will not employ it in order to strip the truth of its essential characteristics, so as to secure for it an apparent acceptance and to shield himself against the charge of making unreasonable demands upon the belief and the practice of his hearers. Language he will employ, for explaining and vindicating the claims of religion, and for securing obedience to those claims, comparatively disregarding the opinions and feelings which men may cherish respecting himself. His effort will be, not to exhibit an elegant combination of finely wrought sentences, but in an intelligible and earnest manner, " to declare all the counsel of God.” Alas! if a minister loves display, if he loves to invest himself with the pomp of language, “he may be amusing his people with the mere sound and arrangement of words, while they are famishing for the bread of life.” How often, alas ! when the professed minister of religion has been standing in the holy place, and occupying the hours sacred to devotion, in a manner which has called forth the admiration of the people, has religion herself bled at every pore!

But has not the pulpit furnished specimens of language and style that are almost beyond praise, and that will occupy the rank of models for successive generations? And have not discourses, thus distinguished for excellence, been manifestly employed by the Holy Spirit as instruments of saving the soul? Unquestionably. examine those performances. What, (waiving the question of divine influence) what gave

them their power ? Was it the structure of the sentences, the accurate measure of the periods, the polish of MAY, 1829.

23

the diction? Or rather, was it not the truth of the sentiments, the rich infusion of scriptural thought, the clearness of the expression, the author's manifest losing of himself in the presenting of his subject? The fact is, God honors piety. A sound judgment, a warm heart, a fervid zeal in the cause of Christ, will impart many positive excellencies even of style to a minister's public discourses ; while through deficiency of these qualities, a man, solicitous for reputation, “coldly correct and critically dull,” will be powerless in the work of saving souls, and even in attracting towards himself the favor of his fellow creatures. No wonder then, that when in connexion with literary qualifications, there is possessed a fervid zeal for the honor of Christ and the salvation of men; no wonder that discourses should be produced, which, while they build up the humble Christian in his most holy faith, possess also the attractions of a finished and eloquent composition.

If a minister adheres, in his discourses, to the purpose which has been mentioned, he will need but few hints respecting his choice of language. He ought to understand the declarations of the Bible on which he proposes to speak, and he ought to choose such language as will distinctly and fully convey to his hearers the meaning of the Bible. That this is his duty, is plain, from the importance of the subjects presented in the Bible. That there is need of effort at this point, appears from the fact, that many Christians have so inadequate, and many so incorrect notions respecting some scriptural subjects; that many terms, which are in current use among religious people, and which may be called the technical terms of religious conversation, are so indefinitely apprehended; and that many words and phrases are often undergoing variations in meaning, either by losing somewhat of their former signification, or by receiving additional shades of meaning. The language by which ministers endeavor to express their ideas, ought to be such as they know will convey precisely those ideas; and when certain words, or phrases, however long sanctioned by use, and however ready to recur to the preacher's mind, are yet not understood, or are understood in a sense different from that which the preacher intended, he ought to select other words which will convey his ideas to the mass of his hearers. Had the minds of men been more directed to things than to words, many fierce controversies might have been spared, many factions in churches might have been prevented, many a disconsolate Christian might have gone on his way rejoicing, and many a self-deceived professor might have seen the error of his way. On ministers is it incumbent to use such language as will distinctly and fully convey the meaning of the Bible, because by the statements of the pulpit more than by the declarations of the inspired word, are the religious opinions of congregations affected. Whatever excellencies then may belong to a minister's language, if on this point there be a failure, there is failure where most of all ought to be success.

But no minister should be contented with barely escaping the charge of misrepresenting, or of not fully exhibiting the meaning of the Bible. Such language should be chosen as is adapted most

deeply to impress the minds of the hearers. It is well known that the same truths uttered by different men produce very different effects on the same minds. Ministers ought to understand this fact, and to take advantage of it in their addresses. Different congregations require different treatment; and to some subjects the diffuse style is best adapted,

while others require concentration of thought and of expression. The salvation of his people and the extending of religious influence into all parts of their characters and into all their conduct, should be the controlling objects of every minister; and in order to gain these objects, there is not a better rule by which to regulate his public instructions, than that which is couched in the Apostle Paul's remark, “In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

The character and state of a congregation, will have influence upon a judicious minister's selection of language and illustrations. What to some persons is perfectly obvious, and may be used as an illustration of a difficult subject, would itself require an illustration in order to benefit some other men. There are words and phrases which are quite familiar to certain ranks of society, but which would be entirely misapprehended by other ranks. Common prudence and benevolence dictate, that in these things a minister should become “all things to all men.” By this wise adaptation, while no essential principles of grammar or of rhetoric are violated, and no “academic ears' are offended, the knowledge of religious truth is diffused, and men of limited acquirements may be made • wise unto salvation.' But alas! how sadly does he mistake the design of the sacred office, in whose addresses are continually occurring words and forms of speech which convey no other information to the majority of men, than that he is marvellously learned ; or which prove, as charity would fain believe, that he is so intent upon the salvation of certain men, that the mass of his hearers has escaped his observation. Let it not be thought, however, that men of thorough education are most in danger of erring in respect to the choice of words. Far from it. One of the most common results of sound learning is, to enable its possessor to make things plain.

Let a minister of the gospel cherish a proper spirit, and there will be little danger of erring in point of language. Rising above all inferior considerations, his aim will be to impress bis hearers with the truths of religion, and thus to contribute to their salvation. Having before him this single object, he will not attempt to soar above their capacities, nor will he descend to any offensive forms of speech. He will not choose subjects, “which minister questions rather than godly edifying ;” and his discourses will be pervaded by such an affectionate sensibility as will make it evident to all, that his heart's desire and prayer to God is, that his hearers may be saved. The cultivation of the Christian temper is of supreme importance to the preacher. It will deliver him from the temptation to fretfulness and impatience. It will prevent him from being

[ocr errors]

weary in well doing.” It will stimulate him to pursue his "work of faith and labor of love," with a father's affectionate desire, so that he will be willing to impart unto his people, not the gospel of God only, but his own soul also, because they will be dear unto him. Whatever view we take of the minister, in all the duties and relations to which he is called, true sensibility is of vital importance. In the selection of language, not less than in other departments of labor, is its influence powerful and salutary; as an orator, especially as a Christian orator, it is indispensable to the highest success. With gratitude we add, that real sensibility is best cultivated by familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures and by habitual communion with God.

Those who have read the sermon named at the head of this ar. ticle, will perceive that we have for the most part followed the train of thought which it presents.

The discourse is worthy of perusal. It is marked by the usual good sense of its author.

In the perusal of it, we were deeply impressed with the importance of extensive preparatory study in those who are called to the care of souls; of a general acquaintance with the Scriptures; and of careful attention to each particular subject on which a discourse may be founded. For ministers " should consider it a sacred duty to understand the expressions of the inspired writers.” It is "by reflecting on the words of the text and their connexion; considering the design of the writer ; by consulting parallel passages; by ascertaining whether the language is literal or figurative; by becoming acquainted with the history of the particular period when the Scriptures were written, its manners, customs, and events; and by adopting correct principles of interpretation," that ministers “ will be enabled rightly to divide the word of truth.” pp. 6, 7.

We were also impressed with the importance of ministers' having an enlarged acquaintance with the human character; so that they may adapt their conduct and their instructions to the various classes of men, and may be prepared for every variety of situation in which divine Providence may place them.

Nor were we less impressed with the sentiment, that a minister of the gospel should be something more than a mere student. He must not only be conversant with the spirits of the mighty dead whose works still live, and will long live, and shed a benignant lustre on man's path to eternity; he must also feel a sympathy with the living, moving forms around him. He must associate with men as being himself a fellowman, in the exercise of all the charities of our common nature, as the friend and the guide, as the guardian and the comforter. Thus his discourses will belong to the age: they will be fitted to existing circumstances; they will flow from an everliving fountain, not only of knowledge and piety, but also of kind and solicitous regard for whatever concerns the temporal and the eternal well-being of those for whom he watches and for whom he must give account. A minister should be a diligent, affectionate pastor, as well as a laborious student. By combining, as far as possible, the qualities of both, he will be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed."

The CHARGE and the other addresses delivered on the same occasion as the sermon, contain judicious statements of Christian doctrine and duty, and exhibit much fraternal feeling. Our readers will be gratified by a few sentences from the valuable Address to the church and society, with which Mr Stow of Portsmouth closed the services at the ordination of Mr Thresher.

You will permit me, as the organ of this council, to caution you against that inordinate affection, which may blaze extravagantly for a season, and then, from mere exhaustion, decline and expire. Love that is at first intense and ardent, does occasionally settle down into a calm and steady attachment. But it not unfrequently happens that those who are the most ready and frank to express their love to their minister, when he commences his labors, are the first to exhibit coldness, and wish him away. To you, therefore, we make the suggestion--begin as you design to continue.

'If you love your pastor, as you should, “for his work's sake,” you will of course provide thoroughly for the comfort of himself and mily. And in making this provision, you will be cautious that no individual is denied the pleasure of doing his true proportion. The piety of that man is of small estimation, who could voluntarily deprive himself of such a privilege. He must have very limited conceptions of the worth of the soul-the preciousness of the Saviour—or the terrors of eternity.

* But though you may love your pastor, and express your attachment by acts of special kindness, do not flatter him. If he pray like a seraph, never tell him of it. If he be as pious as Baxter-as profound as Newton-or as eloquent as Whitefield-proclaim it not in his ears-let him remain so. If he is esteemed as a prodigy of intellectual strength—if he be admired for his ingenuity at interpretation—if his style should charm the fastidious ear of taste-if his voice be as melodious as the ducimer-Satan will inform him frequently enough to prevent his being too humble. If you flatter him at first, and afterwards should neglect it, he will naturally suspect you of alienation of feeling, or dissatisfaction with his performances, and consequently will be unhappy. If you are gratified with his services, there are a thousand methods in which you may express your satisfaction, preferable to that of fulsome adulation. Ministers' hearts are much like yours—capable of inflation by pride and self-conceit.

‘Do not visit him too frequently—especially during the latter half of the week, when his mind is engrossed with the preparations for the sanctuary. It is for your interest—for the interest and honor of your cause—that his discourses should be thoroughly studied, and bedewed with the tears of the closet.

"When you are in affliction-whether from the death of kindred, or from illness in your families, or from any other cause, get information to your pastor as soon as practicable. Never wait for him to learn your condition by mere rumor; but send for him as conscientiously as you do for a physician, and then you will be sure of his visits, sympathies, and prayers. Or, if you thus neglect to inform him of your trials, beware that you never accuse him of neglecting the afflicted. It is exceedingly unkind to keep him in ignorance of your sorrows, and then throw out bitter insinuations touching his want of sympathy or fidelity.

"Whenever he preaches, be early at the house of God, and there give him your undivided attention. Give him your countenances your ears—your eyes. If, when conversing with him on a subject which you deemed important, he should turn away his face, or stare

« AnteriorContinuar »