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Φιλοσοφίαν δε ου την Στωικήν λέγω, ουδε την Πλατωνικήν, ή την 'Επικουρείον
CLEM. ALEX. Strom. L. 1.
THOMAS WARD & CO., PATERNOSTER ROW.
W. OLIPHANT AND SON, EDINBURGH ;
JAMES MACLEHOSE, GLASGOW.
FOR JANUARY, 1842.
Art. I. On the Importance of a Proper System of Academic Train
ing, as tending to facilitate Ministerial Devotedness ; being the substance of an Address delivered to the Constituents of Spring Hill College, Birmingham, on the Evening of the 22nd of June, 1841. By W. Lindsay Alexander, M.A., Edinburgh. 8vo. pp. 44. London : Hamilton and Co.
Of that superhuman wisdom which is conspicuous in all the institutions of Christianity, there is no greater proof than the appointment of an order of men, whose sole business it is to study, to explain, and to enforce the sacred volume, and to promote in all other possible ways the spiritual welfare of mankind. The functions of this class of men are various; the principal, whether we consider the nature of their office, the most obvious and comprehensive means of securing its object, or the example of inspired teachers themselves, is that of“ preaching the gospel.”
No sacred institution is marked by more skilful adaptation to its end, or dictated by a profounder knowledge of our nature, than this of preaching. Without such an institution, Christianity would be deprived of one principal element of power—of a vital organ. Regarded either as an instrument by which men may be taught the truth, or be made to feel it, it is equally important. As to the first, the superiority of oral instruction over every other mode of imparting it, is universally acknowledged. It arrests the attention more effectually ; it admits of more easy and familiar illustration, and of repetitions which, in a book, the teacher would fail to perceive necessary, or would think tedious; it is associated with the tones, the looks, the gestures of him who utters it, with the circumstances under which it is delivered, with the very place of meeting, and the assembly itself; and for all these reasons is more
strongly riveted on the memory. But this institution is of equal importance as an instrument of exciting adequate emotion. The persuasive power of the living voice, further aided by the eye, the countenance, the gesture of the speaker, is admitted by all; and thus truths which appear comparatively cold on the page of a book, seem animated as with a new life when heard from the lips. Nor does the efficacy of this instrument end even here. He who devised it well knew all the susceptibilities of our social nature, and hence the institutions of public worship generally. He who has commanded us not “to forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” well knew that combined and simultaneous action, and the influence of social sympathy, tend to excite and deepen emotion ; and when such“ assembling" is abandoned, it may be safely affirmed that the spirit of religion will at once decline. This law of emotion, which extends more or less to all acts of public worship, affects, in a peculiar manner, the office of preaching. The voltaic current of sympathy, as it circulates from heart to heart, intensifies the emotions both of speaker and hearers, who act and re-act reciprocally upon one another. The persuasive efficacy of the living voice is great, as compared with that of a book, even when it is addressed to the individual; but it receives still a great accession of power when addressed to a multitude. “Strong emotion," to use the words of Robert Hall, “is contagious. The same familiar fact is strongly illustrated by Whately, in a passage of singular beauty, in which he gives a very philosophical solution of the phenomenon. “Every one is aware of the infectious nature of any emotion in a large assembly. It may be compared to the increase of sound, by a number of echoes; or of light, by a number of mirrors; or to the blaze of a heap of firebrands, each of which would speedily have gone out if kindled separately, but which, when thrown together, help to kindle each other.”
When we further consider that, in point of fact, preaching is the easiest and readiest way of conveying to men the “words of life,” and that, probably, in nine cases out of ten, it is the immediate instrument of their salvation, we cannot wonder, either that scripture should give it such pre-eminence, or that every one who bears the Christian name should be deeply solicitous that such an institution should be maintained in the highest state of efficiency. Well might the Apostle declare, that he considered this function of preaching as the highest which appertained to his office, and exult that he was “sent, not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”
Preaching was the great instrument by which the early triumphs of the gospel were achieved; it was the great instrument by which the Reformation was effected; it was the great instrument of the revival of religion in the middle of the last century; and it may be safely predicted, that if the progress of our