Imágenes de páginas
PDF

the humbling doctrines of the cross, the greatest numbers should flock to those places of worship where these doctrines are most faithfully preached, and where the minister does not shun to declare the whole counsel of God?”—The proposer of this question will permit me, I conceive, to condense it thus; “What are the causes of the popularity of evangelical preaching?” In this shape, I will attempt its investigation. The fact assumed by the inquirer, is substantially this, the nearer the public instructions of a clergyman resemble those of Jesus Christ, the more will the world adInire him. Such an assumption, to me appears to be inadmissible. By way of ascertaining what is numerically meant by the term popularity, when applied to an evangelical preacher, let us, suppose a practical case. A minister of the class in question leaves London with a view to visit the four largest towns in the kingdom. Of these, according to the census in 1801, Manchester 2entains 84,000 inhabitants; Liverpool, 77,000; Birmingham 73,000; Bristol, 63,000. He arrives at the first of these places; and his appearance in the pulpit is announced by the usual means of publicity. Of the 84,000 inhabitants of Manchester, we will allow the inability of one half to leave home. From the remaining 42,000 (numbers of whom are children, &c.) deduct 22,000; and thus suppose 20,000 * fo. capable of attending pubic worship; and farther capable of being attracted by objects of popularity as such; and if so, capable, of course, of being influenced by the name, and public appearance, of a popular preacher. A farther operation is now necessary. Of these 20,000, it must be determined whether they are all sincere. If they are; then the

* The deductions in the text, I am perfectly aware, are liberal; but the concession may render the general conclusion less dis*able-The writer has not seen the population returns for the present year.

Chaist. Observ, No. 116,

preacher's popularity means nothing more than that religious persons are glad to receive instruction from an eminent instructor, and accordingly throng to hear him, particularly, if their opportunities of doing so occur very seldom. All this is in the natural course of things, and cannot be blamed. On the other hand, if these 20,000 are not sincere; or, if one half be sincere, and the other hypocritical; then, in the one case, there are 20,000 following a minister, whom, as far as he resembles Jesus Christ, they must necessarily despise and hate; in the other, 10,000 are doing this, but they mingled with a similar number who venerate this minister in proportion as their fellow-followers dislike him. Either this inference is just, or human nature loves religion. The general result will now stand thus; among 84,000 inhabitants in a given town, 20,000, or about one-fourth, are supposed to go after a popular preacher, as, observe, a popular object; and so far they are eager for a sight of him just as the same mass of persons would crowd about an inn, to see Colonel Wardle, Mrs. Clarke, Lucien Bonaparte, Louis XVIII., Count Gottorp, Lord Wellington, or any other, worthy or unworthy incitement to public curiosity. Now I suppose, that the most sanguine calculator on the evangelical side will never plead either that every fourth person in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Bristol, is really a practical Christian; or, that every fourth person in those towns would cross a street to hear the most fascinating preacher in the empire. What then becomes of the assumed popularity of evangelical preaching? Is even every eighth individual in these towns sincere? or would every eighth person sacrifice a sight of Lucien Bonaparte, or any of the other spectacles for the sake of hearing even a Leuconomus Redivivus P It appears to me, that whatever be the popularity of evangelical *** it can only be called com3

parative. An instructor of this stamp is not popular, in the received sense of the term ; but only as opposed to ministers in general, who attract no attention beyond the limits of their regular congregations. Let us, however, consider another case. A congregation gathered and superintended by an evangelical preacher : consists of 1500 persons. These are : the congregation; and professedly serious Christians. There are, however, 500 other persons who attend the assembly with tolerable regularity; and whatever be their characters, they give, to the doctrinal system they hear, the support, at least, of their personal attendance. Here also a process is requisite. You have first to analyze the 1500; and then the other 500. I wish to be informed, how many of the 1500 are to be looked upon as uncertain scharacters. Then arises the ini. , what draws the other 500 to the feet of an evangelical instructor * Now, on the assumption, that even a complete half of the whole 2000 are sincere, it is superfluous to reply, “that they are anxious to know what they must do to be saved, and natu•rally adhere to the man who can best tell them. They have some meaning, when, to his prayer, “Endue thy ministers with righteousness,” they add, “And make thy chosen people joyful.” Leaving this moiety in better hands, the rest remains for farther investigation. . . 1. It may then, I think, be answered, ...that the modified popularity of evan‘gelical preaching, arises, first, from the general feeling of interest, or sympathy, which diffuses itself throughout an assembly formed under such instruction, and which ‘sensation, to a certain degree, communicates itself to a casual attendant, who is conscious of there being a something that appears to influence and animate the whole mass with a passion common to all, giving the whole external system of worship an impulsive character, and a kind of action and re-action, not •bservable in the generality of reli

forfeited. The Romanists, the Mo

gious assemblies. The adversaries of the evangelical scheme will assert the sensation, so communicated, to be mischievous. This does not alter the fact—and with that alone am I at present concerned—that in the circumstances described, an acci. dental attendant observes a certain religious sensibility not discernible elsewhere. However, be it devout or fanciful, the thing itself is attractive. Wherever men discover an evident interest in a matter which is confessedly capable of awakening it, they will first respect, and then sympathize with the par. ties excited. A retired man, who speculatively detests war,will readily own the influence of martial feelings, on hearing a Highlander tell the tales of Corunna and Talavera; and, for the moment, wish that he too were a soldier. Agrippa himself began to yield to the Gospel, when he exclaimed to St. Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian l’” 2. Another cause is, the great attention bestowed by such con gations upon music. Where the words and melodies are skilfully se-o lected, and every individual is taught that acts of praise, like those supplication, are properly acts of de-votion; and when, in these religious exercises, the natural passions are distinctly excited by the most attractive of all sciences,—the result of this combination of causes. is a most potent stimulant. Even

libertines have acknowledged the fascination of church-music. I have read of an unbeliever, who, when the voice of praise from a religious

assembly swelled upon his ear, own: , ed the effect to be something like a conviction of his error; and des. clared that the worshippers appear. ed to be enjoying what he had

[merged small][ocr errors]

and their stalled assistants, as to be generally unfit for the bulk of the congregation. To be actually interested in singing, we must hear tunes in which we can join. Regular musical services are now pretty nearly abandoned to the amateurs, who sentimentally parade the nave and cloisters, while, as they often repeat, * —Through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault, The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.” 3. A third cause is the interest taken by religious congregations in the operations and success of societies instituted for pious purposes. To forward these, they are in the constant habit of communication in private ; where they arrange their modes of support. Collections are periodicallymade in their churches; and the sermons delivered on these occasions have, as they ought to have, a strong tendency to make their audiences compare their own privileges and hopes with the destitute condition of nations yet in utter darkness. This feeling alone might be termed, a strong spiritual cement. Their exertions, thus planned and matured by these private and public measeres, become a bond of union, which comes in aid of the grand principle that originally gathered the congregation. The familiarity of its members with the Reports of Missionary and Bible Societies, and the monthly details in magazines, is also part of the external machinery, by which religious interest and curiosity are maintained in activity. Every month each person has subject for conversation new from the press; and the regular recurrence of this, twelve times in the year, renovates the sanguine; and on the more indifferent operates as water upon a rock. It is indeed obvious, that persons, judged by charity herself to be practically one with the world, may subscribe to institutions for the suppression of vice, and for the distribution of Bibles,

They retain their own.

vices, and neglect their own Bibles. But here also, a respect for other men's exertions in causes allowedly good, extorts sympathy. The very effects of this sympathy contribute to the modified popularity of evangelical preaching. They animate the congregation formed by such doctrine to continue their general system; which, as is already intimated, receives support from the measures out of doors; and unquestionably claims half its vigour from the circumstance of that doctrine being transferred from the Liturgy and the pulpit to the social converse of domestic life, and to the infusion of that doctrine into the regular acts of domestic devotion. The religion of individual families is reflected back upon the aggregate assembly. In the generality of congregations, there is none of this spiritual commerce. There is no esprit du corps. The external frame wants vitality; it is inert, rigid, and motionless. 4. I must now bespeak the reader's candour, by suggesting, as another reason, the difference between preaching nothing but what is properly evangelical, and preaching the whole of what is sc. In making this distinction to bear upon our subject, I refer to the many, many, instances, where ministers. contrive to be orthodox, and even spiritual, without leaving a sting in the consciences of their hearers. What they say may be, indeed, scriptural, and purely scriptural. They speak “ the truth,” and “nothing but the truth;” but not “ the whole truth.” This negative property may be one source of their popularity. Few men in the habit of attending them, will resent the most humiliating representations of human corruption, or refuse to verify the highest ascriptions of glory to Christ, so long as these two great subjects of evangelical instruction do not come too near their own sins and deficiencies. It is, however, one thing to own, generally, our hereditary and actual guilt; another to specify how we have

offended. The character of Mrs. Ranby (in Coelebs), who was all sin, but with no faults, is a case in point. Let a preacher, at any of the four commercial towns above mentioned, ask some of his admiring followers, if they mean to refund the five or ten per cent. which, in certain bargains with incautious dealers, they superadded to the fair profits on their articles; let him tell them, that this dexterity does, indeed, plainly prove them to be “miserable sinners;” and finally, let him assure them, that unless they repent, they shall “all likewise perish;” and I question, whether this teach. er's popularity will long survive his faithfulness. Or, let him se. riously advise certain of the “fairest of creation,” not to expose their figures and their vanity, by indecorous and costly attire, and sink the Christian—how dare I say it ! —in the woman; let him quote to the sparkling circle,

*Together lie her prayer-book and her paint, At once to improve the sinner and the saint.”

and he must, I fear, resign himself to the forfeiture of such pleasant compliment and raillery as no man, be his vesture black or scarlet, can surrender without a pang. On this Point, I formally appeal to all your clerical readers—if unmarried. The admiring followers abovementioned, will yet classify mi. nisters, as themselves believe, with impartiality and precision. They will almost tolerate rudeness to instructors, “ both in and out of the establishment,” unless accredited by their own party; and upon the select few may be showered all that favouritism can collect, and self. complacency distribute. 5. A far more worthy source of Popularity is the personal character, and the manner of conducting di. Wine service, which characterize the generality of evangelical in*uctors. To say the least, no man “letects them in such offences as the *nt opinion of the world for*lly condemns. Their lives RPG

allowed to be innocent. This is a great concession. It gives them a considerable influence over the neutral party; and the party also which, in the event of any dispute, may find it necessary to weigh the moral merit of the combatants. I will myself, however, offer much more than this negative commenda. tion; and assert, that as far as my own knowledge testifies, the moral purity of the evangelical class, gene. rally, far exceeds that of their opponents, and in many instances seems to realize the practical god. liness described in the lives of saints and martyrs. Their manner in public, even separated from all consi. derations of doctrine and personal character, must unquestionably prepossess the mass of disinterested at. tendants, I say, the mass; because occasional deviations of earnestness into vehemence and wildness do not affect them, so as to make the original feelings of respect yield to s those of disapprobation and disgust." Whereas, the contrary not unfree." quently takes place, when the hearer makes pretensions to false, and sometimes to true, refinement, If a clergyman be practically in: different to the effect of his preaching, his manner will natus rally be spiritless. He will appeat in the pulpit, as the generality of the people in their pews; he to read his sermon, they to hear it; and then, every end of the two parties seems to be fully answered." Both leave the church; and on the succeeding Sundays, the physical act is repeated with the same con: sequences. . But if a clergymat view his public instructions as con current with other important agen cies to bring about a most seriod effect, and an effect which properú | begins when he has finished his part; or an effect to be added to what is already produced. in orde to mature a great design alway tending towards perfection, but ver tain never to reach it; this text dency, moreover, being subject * perpetual interruption;--if a nui

[ocr errors]

nister of Jesus Christ thus “ look before and after,” nothing that he says from the chair of instruction £an be delivered without his af. sections acting upon his utteranee. Not that all men, like the ancient father, thunder and lighten, while awakening the consciences of the impenitent, and confirming the souls of the elect. A feeble constitution, a mind naturally slow and unready, or a disposition incapable ... of approaching to , any kind of 4 servid' and impassioned emotion, will discover itself even in an evangelist. But with every deduction, a teacher, formed on the Christian model, will, as opposed to others, the devotion, and appeal to she hearts, of his congregation, as with the energy of an informing i. from whom is diffused around ity and a principle of endur. stice, Now, I conceive, that the lanee, and much more, the acpossession and display of this racter, must operate upon the igious themselves so far as to t (while they are unconscious the influence) this conviction.— f the man be mistaken, he is neheless sincere !” Did this persuasurvive its immediate cause, seed which falls by the way. would spring up and bear fruit undred fold. As it is, it is n down, and the fowls of the ur it. h then are the five principal s which contribute to the mopopularity of evangelical hing. Others, perhaps, might vanced; though, I conceive, may be all resolved into those y stated. imagine now a philosopher of ancient world to have heard on apostles explain the scheme of * Gospel, omitting nothing, and **ing to every part its proportion, o importance—s would ask, whe- this man would assure his in-ctors that their doctrine would ith be embraced by the maof mankind, that is, become * The inquiry is its own

answer. A religion which expressly requires the denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts, and the active pursuit of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, is formed to please human creatures, exactly as pain and sorrow are calculated to be chosen for their own sake. Look at the picture of Christianity, which a libertine poet sketched, when he copied, not from his fancy, but his convictions.

“All faith beside or did by arms ascend,
Or, sense indulged, have made mankind their
friend.
This only doctrine does our lusts oppose,
Unfed by nature's soil in which it grows;
Cross to our interests, curbing sense and sin,
Qppress'd without, and undermin'd within,
It thrives through pain, its own tormentors
tires,
And with a stubborn patience still aspires.”
DRYpon.

Is this the religion, which is to furnish materials for the speculation of philosophers, and to flatter the physical appetites of the populace! Here I shall venture to express a difficulty I have in understandin that part of our Lord's appeal to his conduct, as proving who hears; namely, to the poor the Gospel is preached. If John's disciples were to understand by this, that Jesus, (contrary to the practice of the jew: ish hierarchy, who were “grieved” that he and his followers “taught the people”) meant spiritually to equalize mankind, by opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers, to plebeian and Samaritan, as well as to a rabbi, or a Hebrew of the Hebrews, the difficulty is removed. But if, in correspondence to a common interpretation, he would instruct John that the poor would more gladly than their superiors in riches and station, receive the Gospel, I must then assert, that my experience, if it do not positively refuse this interpretation, certainly does by no means confirm it. I incline rather to think, that religion takes its station more frequently in the first and second ranks above the poor, than with po

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »