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this age of the world, are selected in different ways by different sects and denominations. But there are still ministers of all sects and denominations. Why should we shut our eyes to the whole history of Christianity? Is it not the preaching of ministers of the Gospel that has evangelized the more civilized part of the world? Why do we at this day enjoy the lights and benefits of Christianity ourselves? Do we not owe it to the instrumentality of the Christian ministry? The ministers of Christianity, departing from Asia Minor, traversing Asia, Africa, through Europe to Iceland, Greenland, and the poles of the earth, suffering all things, enduring all things, hoping all things, raising men everywhere from the ignorance of idol-worship to the knowledge of the true God, and everywhere bringing life and immortality to light through the Gospel, have only been acting in obedience to the Divine Institution ; they were commanded to go forth, and they have gone forth, and they still go forth. They have sought, and they still seek to be able to preach the Gospel to every creature under the whole heaven. And where was Christianity ever received, where were its truths ever poured into the human heart, where did its waters, springing up into everlasting life, ever burst forth, except in the track of the Christian ministry? Did we ever hear of an instance, does history record an instance of any part of the globe Christianized by lay-preachers or lay-teachers? And descending from kingdoms and empires, to cities and countries, to parishes and villages, do we not all know that wherever Christianity has been carried, and wherever it has been taught by human agency, that agency was the agency of ministers of the Gospel ?”
But while I thus “magnify mine office," while I would be jealous of the rights and influence of pastors, and would defend the pulpit against all disorderly encroachments, I would not impose unwarrantable restraints upon any class of men who desire to proclaim the “ unsearchable riches of Christ.” It is a common tendency with those who are charged with a specific duty, to look upon themselves as a “standing order," having the exclusive control of every thing pertaining to the object of their “mission.” Hence among ministers, we often find a jealousy of any thing like preaching, by those who are not ordained to this particular work.
But what is that lay-preaching which is thus condemned? The Roman Catholic and the Churchman agree in telling us that the preaching of “Christ and him crucified” by those whose Apostolic grace and commission exceed the compass of a bishop's fingers, is lay-preaching. They have a way of measuring a man's qualifications to preach the Gospel, which it must be owned, has the merit of being as tangible as it is superficial; but not of confining the virtue of “ Apostolical succession” within such limits as prevent it from becoming a “cheap” and “vulgar"
thing. Unfortunately too, none but the most unenlightened and bigoted sectarians, those who in this land of the Pilgrims are “schismatics,” and “ dissenters" from the pure faith and worship of their fathers, can be induced to sanction a criterion so absurd. The Christian world, indeed, suffers the weakness, since in a free government, it must always be a comparatively harmless piece of folly, which may stand in lieu of some more hurtful superstition.
But do not those ministers of Christ who are thus disowned by prelatists, often declaim against “ laypreaching” as foolishly in their turn?-acting in this respect, more like subalterns in a despotism, who transmit an insult from one grade to another, than as the members of a Christian democracy.
The truth is, that no invariable rule can be laid down upon this subject. If by lay-preaching is meant, the practice common among laymen of exhorting each other in meetings for social worship, who would not encourage it? If it means the practice of giving a more formal and public address, at stated times, upon some topic of religion, what objection can there be to such preaching, if the Christian brother who engages in it is competent to give instruction in religious truth? Mr. Dwight was accustomed, at one time, to expound the Scriptures to a Bible class composed of from fifty to a hundred individuals. Is such an exercise, so profitable to old and young, to be proscribed as lay-preaching? Yet it was often real preaching, and that too upon the Sabbath.
Suppose that a lay-brother holds religious meetings on the Sabbath among those who do not enjoy the stated ministry of the word. What then? Does it infringe upon the prerogatives of ministers, for private Christians to proclaim the Gospel to all who will hear them? But it may be said, that the tendency of such labors will be to undermine the Christian ministry. It would indeed be unfortunate, if these labors should in any case be substituted for those of a settled clergyman. But where the people are without a settled clergyman, is not lay-preaching better than none? And even if a church should prefer lay-preaching to any other, though their choice might be unwise, who could object to it? Preaching in such a case, would cease to be mere lay-preaching, and become the preaching of such a ministry as the church approved. Such labors on the part of private Christians, surely, can never injuriously affect a pastor who is fitted for his work. They can hardly fail to extend his influence, and to prepare new materials for his labors. If incompetent or officious persons attempt to make themselves teachers, they will soon find their level in every congregation of ordinary intelligence. A judicious pastor can so foster the disposition of private Christians to become exhorters, as virtually to regulate it, and to make it a powerful auxiliary.
I was always glad to hear it said, that “ Mr. Dwight could explain the Bible as well as a minister;" for I felt, that I could leave the charge of a religious conference in his hands, with entire satisfaction to the church. He was always ready to assist his pastor in such a meeting; but he never thought of taking the direction of it in my presence, or of performing any duty which belongs especially to ministers. His doctrine was, that the pastor should always lead, but never rule the church. When I remember the labors of Mr. Dwight in the weekly conference, and especially his efforts to sustain religious meetings in the suburbs of the city; when I am told that his labors and those of his brethren, in Fair Haven, twenty years ago, produced a reformation of morals which prepared the way for the organization of a church in that village; and when I read the record of the numerous revivals which originated in the blessing of God on similar labors,* so far from joining in an
* Among Mr. Dwight's papers I find the following list of churches which were visited by himself and his associates during the revival of 1820–21. It may give the reader a more definite idea of the extent of the labors of those brethren than is conveyed by the preceding narrative. When we consider that these visits were made by men in active business, some of whom spent a part of every week, for a considerable period, in promoting revivals of religion, we cannot but admire the zeal and self-denial of that devoted band, and pray that their spirit may actuate all the followers of Christ.
The figures in the following list denote the number of visits made to a church, and the letter R, indicates that the visit was followed by a revival of religion.
Bethel, R.; Bethlem, R.; Branford, 2, R.; Bridgewater; Brooke