« AnteriorContinuar »
ARTICLE VIII.—PROFESSOR HUNTINGTON'S NEW VOLUME OF
Christian Believing and Living. SERMONS by F. D. HUNT
INGTON, D. D. Boston: Crosby, Nichols & Co. 1860. pp. 528.
THE Christian public have already heard with pleasure of this second volume of Sermons from the pen of the University Preacher in Harvard College. Our readers, whether they have seen it as yet or not, are prepared to welcome it, and anticipate our commendations. It is a book which, as it falls from the press, falls into hands outstretched to receive it, and which will be sought for with avidity by diverse classes, and through communions the most unlike. It has a two-fold claim upon our attention. It belongs to that class of Sermons, which have done so much to redeem this department of literature from the contempt into which it had fallen, and we are constrained to add, deservedly. Instead of being abstract discussions, the outgrowth of artificial modes of thinking, addressed to tastes as artificial, sermons bearing no marks of human authorship, and as suited to the ninth as to the nineteenth century, “without father, without mother, without descent," they are, what all popular sermons are, and what we hold a Christian sermon ought to be, earnest utterances of the thought of the time, phases of life, discourses inseparable from the man who speaks, the people who hear, and the epoch in the unfolding kingdom of Christian truth, when just such thoughts and experiences mark the stage of human progress. A true sermon is a fact, not a speculation; the preacher himself believes and therefore speaks, and speaks what other men need and wait for, or in their blindness deny; and the sermon consequently has an historic meaning and place. The History of the Christian Religion and Church might be traced back to the Apostles and the person of our Lord himself, by means of such facts, had they been preserved to us; not an event, essential to an understanding of the development of the kingdom
of God on earth, but would have a witness for itself in these utterances; they are the breathings of that life, which the Spirit of God has conducted through human hearts, and they have grown emphatic and eloquent by the attempt to suppress or control them. There is little matter of surprise, therefore, in the present popularity and permanent value of a good sermon; not that all popular sermons are good, any more than all notoriety is fame, not that we reverence the maxim“ vox populi, vou dei,” as vulgarly interpreted; still we are disposed to acquiesce in the fate of sermons that fell still-born from the press; they did not so much die, as failed to be. The type of many an old fashioned New England sermon, is an abstract and often metaphysical discussion of some universal proposition, prefaced by just enough of exegesis to connect it with the text by way of inference or suggestion, similitude or contrast, and followed by applications so generic and vague, as to suggest the suspicion that the preacher spoke before duelists watching for personalities, or in fear of being served with process for libel. Whoever will take the pains to look through the old Election Sermons, in which the clergy of New England discoursed before the law makers, will observe in regard to most of them how little they contain of historic matter, or even allusion, how, with some marked exceptions, the preachers touched their hearers, or their times, at scarcely a single point of sensibility, even though they were speaking at the most interesting and important junctures of our colonial history, when were sown the seeds which are still bearing fruit in church and state, when legislatures and the people were alike occupied with discussing some organic principle of civil right or ecclesiastical order, and a living utterance from the pulpit would have been to us in our times, if not to them in theirs, like a light shining in a dark place.” South's sermons are pot loss interesting and full of life to-day, than they were when spoken two centuries ago; and as historical monuments they are increasingly valuable. The contrast between them and many sermons of that date, preached in New England, is most striking, even more so in respect of matter, than of style, and in the last respect it is hard to realize that the men spoke the same mother English, and were formed by the same authors. We are far from holding up South as a model in temper, or impartiality; we believe that our Puritan fathers, on both sides of the waters, were infinitely his superiors in Christian integrity and self-denying faithfulness to God and posterity. But as a sermonizer, he is to be honored even by those whom he misrepresented and who differ from him the most, for he preached as a living man to living men ; his sermons need no prefixes of date, for they are inseparable from the times, with whose history they are identified. While South was preaching thus, and therefore preaches still, the New England minister was busying himself about Israel of old, and Egypt and the Wilderness of Sin, and applying the lessons of God's eternal truth so obscurely to the Israel whom he led forth out of another house of bondage, and settled in a new land of promise, that for us at this distance it is impossible to glean from those discourses when, or for what the preacher spoke, and dead as they are now in their antiquarian sleep, we can scarcely believe they are any more so than when spoken. It was not so with the first generation of Puritan preachers; they were practical and home-thrusting men, historymakers, studying the word of God and proclaiming it for the express purpose of laying foundations in church and state. When Cotton, in the First Church, Boston, established any great truth out of the word of God, so earnest was his ministry, and so earnest the founders of that Christian commonwealth, that the truth, thus established, at once made its appearance in the legislation of the infant colony. But the intense life, in which New England began, was quickly followed by formalism and death; no one can study our early annals without being struck with the differences between the first planters and the second generation, in culture, liberality, freedom from prejudice, and thorough sincerity; the difference to say the least was equally great between the ministers. A dead scholasticism came in the place of a living ministry, and it has had a long reign; but it is, we trust, passing away, although we are not ignorant of the hold it still has upon our pulpits. There are many barrels of sermons now, well filled, nay, and turned over, from all of which it would be impossible to learn
whether the preacher were a married man, or bachelor, and preached to a sea-faring or agricultural people. We have heard of a venerable pastor, along the Sound, who met his people after one of those terrible steamboat disasters, which thrilled the country with horror, and although his own congre. gation came together bowed down in participation with the general distress, he neither alluded to it in sermon or prayer. But such cases are rare now, and will be still rarer hereafter; we have indeed other besetments : we sometimes fear lest the pulpit be perverted from its sacred uses, and while degrading the public taste, be itself degraded and lose the respect which it retained notwithstanding its comparative powerlessness; our pulpits have come down architecturally nearer the pews, and sometimes morally below them, but we do not expect to see them, though made of marble, occupied again by a petri-fied minister.
These remarks, however, have drawn us aside from our intended track of thought. Dr. Huntington's sermons are vital and vitalizing, and like Bushnell's and Robertson's, will elevate the character and increase the usefulness of the pulpit; and they have another attraction,—tò literary they add a theological interest. Nay, and more than this, it is still theology in the concrete, historical and personal; it is the portraying of the process by which he has been led out of the Unitarianism of his early ministry into a distinct and positive Trinitarianism. His previous publication, Sermons to the Peoplo, was indeed Evangelical in the strict sense of the term, and contained an emphatic declaration of belief in the Deity of Christ, and by its whole spirit commended itself to general confidence and acceptance. But the present volume witnesses to a progress in the author's mind, by the freeness with which he adopts the phraseology of our orthodox standards and symbols. The word “Trinity" has not the merit of being a Scriptural one, and for a time Dr. Huntington refrained from using it, while he taught the doctrine substantially for which the word stood as a representative. He seems to have found himself constrained to accept the term out of loyalty to the trnth it expessed. VOL. XVIII.
“The term Trinity,” he writes, “is not applied to the doctrine in the Bible; but is a definite and just description of what the Bible teaches; and there is no reason why it should not be adopted and used. It is sanctioned by the venerable and hallowed custom of Christian centuries, and of innumerable hosts of confessors, sages, and saints. There is an especial reason for using it, if from its omission the inference should be anywhere drawn that the truth itself, which the term conveys, is denied. Calvin said he was willing that the name “Trinity' should be buried and forgot,' if only this could be the accepted faith of all,—that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each distinguished by a peculiar property, are one God. Equally willing ought we to be to take and assert that name, if thereby we may render to this ó acceptance of faith' any more unambiguous or unreserved honor.”—p. 357.
The above is an extract from the twentieth sermon, around which the chief interest of the volume, theologically at least, gathers. It is founded upon our Lord's words, Matt. xxviii, 19, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost;" and is entitled, “Life, Salvation and Comfort for Man in the Divine Trinity.” It is a precise statement of the orthodox and church doctrine of the Holy Trinity; we know not where we can find a better; and it cannot fail to be acceptable and strengthening to all classes of believers in this central doctrine of the Evangelical system. We should hope it will also be considered with candor and kindness by those from whose faith he has separated himself and which he opposes, for the sermon is not more distinguished by the explicitness and emphasis of its Trinitarianism, than by the justice and charity it breathes toward the advocates of Unitarianism. We cite the following passage, as beautifully blending the affirmation of this cherished doctrine of the Christian Catholic Church, with an affectionate and tender spirit toward those who deny it.
“Let the solemn and tender spirit of that parting scene where the doctrine was announced with such august authority be given to our unworthy attempt to reaffirm it! It ought to be the last of all subjects to be handled in a hard, technical, jejune, or merely dogmatic treatment. Still less should the sharp, fierce temper of dialectical ambition or partisan controversy intrude to embitter the