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such things are not common; but it is clear that whoever introduces or countenances them ought to be regarded as an enemy to the community in which he dwells, and an abettor of irreligion and sin."
"But we do not have such doings out here in the country."
"No, thank God; but if other bad fashions of town get into the country at last, this will too. And, indeed, I fear that we have not much to boast of. We do not throw away
manner, but we are far
our holy opportunities in the same from using them as we should. Even you, John, who are one of the quiet people, began with complaining that Saturday evening is a heavy time; and now you add, that Sunday is not very profitable to you. And why? The only reason must be, that you misuse it. You do not make it a business to prepare for it as it approaches, and to make the most of it as it passes."
John admitted that this was the case, and added, that he should be very glad to be guided to the best methods. The conversation did not soon come to a close; but what its purport was, and what were its results, cannot now be related.
A REFLECTING Christian often wonders at the apparently trifling efficacy of religious institutions; he perplexes himself to comprehend how it is that such multitudes hear preaching, and yet so few profit by it. A yet greater won
der is it, at times, that he himself should be so little the better for his attendance on services of whose value he thinks himself deeply sensible. The minister occasionally tries to explain the matter in a sermon ; but his explanation is only partially satisfactory: what seem to him the chief causes do not appear such to men in more exposed walks of life, and the speculations of different active men on the subject differ as much as their various personal experience. Some ascribe it to the weakness of the preachers, and some to the inattention of the hearers; some to internal, and some to external causes; and many, in striving to satisfy their minds on the point, forget to keep a watch over the only causes which are of any moment to themselves.
It is not strange, therefore, that, when Mr. Hertson had preached a sermon from the text, "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard," there was a good deal of speculation among his hearers as to the justness of his views. Some thought that he refined too much, some that he was not sufficiently discriminating, some that he made too much of faith, some that he was not sufficiently practical, and some that he did not make allowance for the hinderances which the world throws in the way of piety. So they began at the church door, and, as the several parties separated on their way home, they carried on the discussion. If it be one aim of a preacher to make people think, he certainly had hit the mark that once at least.
As no one in the parish lived farther from church than David Ellington, it happened that those who walked the same road with him kept up the discourse during the whole distance; and he had an opportunity to hear opinions on all the different points that were started. When this had
been done, and neighbor after neighbor had dropped away, each at his own threshold, Jane turned to her husband, and said, "So, if we may trust what we have been hearing on all sides, preaching does no good, and yet nobody is to blame for it."
"Except the minister," replied David.
"Nay," said his wife, "even Dr. Pillerton, who spoke most harshly, acknowledged that, after all, the preacher does enough to be the making of any man who would take heed to his words. So that, for aught I see, the minister also is free from blame, like every body else; and we have only to wonder how this dreadful waste of religious influences is to be accounted for."
"And yet, meantime, nothing is more easily accounted for, if you will take it up in single cases, and examine them one by one. Men are puzzled, because they want to see through all Christendom at once; but they will find there is no puzzle at all, if they will just sit down and each decide his own case. Describe to me any man's life, and I will tell you at once why it is that preaching does him no good."
While he was saying this, neighbor Smith, who had been walking ahead of our carpenter and his family, and, now that none else was in their company, desired to join himself to them, had turned back and caught the last sentence. He too had evidently been musing on the topic of the day, and gave vent to his feelings by exclaiming bitterly, "I don't believe that it does any body any good."
"Why, Mr. Smith," exclaimed Jane, "you speak as if you had received a personal affront."
"Then I am sure I ask pardon," said John. "I spoke quick, to be sure, because I had been trying to make it out straight all the way, and I can't do it. I don't see why
preaching should not do good, and yet I'm sure it never did any good to me, and I do not see that it does much good any where. Now, take this very town, and go over it from one end to the other, and count the people on your fingers, and consider - "
David interrupted him. "That's the very reason you get so puzzled; you undertake too much; you would explain the case of a thousand people at once, when, perhaps, you are hardly able to explain one. Let us take one at a time. Let us begin with John Smith; and when we understand his case, we will go to his next neighbor, David Ellington, and sift him; and so on, from door to door."
66 Well," said John, "it's chiefly my own case that I care about, and that makes me feel so bad. I don't know that all the sermons I ever heard have done me the least good in the world."
Very well; now the question is, Why? Is it because the sermons were poor and unable to do good?"
"I cannot say that of all of them. Some poor preaching I have heard, and I have heard some very fine preaching that was worse than the poor; but, on the whole, there has been more that was good. And that, in fact, makes the difficulty. Sermons are very excellent, for the most part, very; and yet they don't make me any better."
"Then we must seek another cause. I had a neighbor once, who possessed a comfortable house, and a capital lot of ground to till, orchard, mowing-ground, cattle, and a wife who was an admirable dairy-woman. There was not a man in town with a better opportunity to lead a thrifty, forehanded, prosperous life. What was the reason that he did not? People wondered, when they looked at his fine farm, why in the world it was that the poor man was always be
hindhand and going down hill. What was the reason? It could not be the farm-what was it?"
John did not answer, for he more than suspected that his friend was beginning to make a parable out of his own history.
"No," continued David, "it was not the farm that was in fault, but the farmer. He did not use his opportunities; he neglected his land; he lounged about, doing nothing, and talked, and smoked, and drank; and as he grew poorer every year, he kept wondering how it could be that so fine a farm would not support him in plenty and ease."
"He found out at last," whispered John.
"Yes, he found out at last; and then what did he do? He just attended to his business; gave up idle and dissipated habits, and minded his farm; and then he had no difficulty in winning from it a handsome support. Now, you are doing with preaching just as you used to do with your farm neglecting it; and how in the world can you expect it to do you good? How can you be so foolish as to
no grain to reap, and no abun
be surprised that you have dance on your board, when you have not sowed the seed, nor tended the crop?"
"But that is not quite fair," replied John. "I do not neglect preaching; there is not a man in the village more constant at meeting than I am.”
"Just as you used to live on your farm, always at home, never away from the homestead; but that availed nothing, while you were an idler. And so in this case. Of what use to be at church, if you do nothing more? Sitting there, and taking into your ears the voice of the preacher, is no better than sitting by your back-door, and musing on the beauty and fertility of your lands. Nothing can grow up in either case, if this is all you do."