« AnteriorContinuar »
dreary enough, that which is lighted with knowledge all the way, and reveals distinctly all the horrors of the abyss, is the dreariest.
Let him, then, who thinks of assuming the sacred office of the Christian ministry pause and examine himself, recollecting that it is better to "hew wood” or “draw water,” to toil at the loom or follow the plough—in a word, to perform the meanest drudgeries of secular life, than assume a spiritual office without spiritual qualifications, without that deeply religious spirit which can alone secure its happy and efficient discharge. Well said Erasmus, “In my opinion, he who aspires to this excellent office ought to take the utmost care to render the heart, which is the fountain of his eloquence, as pure as possible. This is supremely necessary, not only that he may instruct and excite the minds of his hearers, not only that he may vigorously defend the truth against its enemies, but even for acquiring a knowledge of that heavenly wisdom which he is to deliver to others. Even bad men may comprehend human sciences; but divine wisdom enters not a heart contaminated with vices, nor deigns to dwell in a body enslaved by corruption."*
But though, in our judgment, this great pre-requisite for the ministry has been consistently demanded by those upon whom has fallen the responsibility of selecting or training young men for the ministry amongst us, we cannot say that the same wise caution has been always extended to other qualifications, which in another way are equally essential to its successful discharge. Though no other qualities can take the place of piety, piety can as little take the place of them. As all the world knows, a man may be a very good man, and yet very dull and stupid nevertheless; utterly unfit, therefore, for an office the very object of which is to instruct, to convince, to persuade ; in which some acuteness and promptitude of mind, some skill in argument, and some power of illustration, clearness in apprehending and facility in explaining truth, diversified knowledge, and command of language, are imperatively required. In any secular employment which demands these qualities, we should not consider integrity alone a sufficient qualification; neither, for similar reasons, should we be content with piety alone as a qualification for the ministry. Nay, further, it is possible that even some of the above qualities may be possessed, and yet there may be such an obvious deficiency in the rest as would at once justify the rejection of any candidate in whom such deficiency is found. Thus there may be considerable powers of acquisition, and yet such an atter want of the aptitudes essential to the communication of knowledge, as may at once convince us that the man can never be an impressive speaker. There may be much logical acuteness, and yet such a total absence of imagi
Erasmus de Concionandi Ratione, lib. i.
nation, and such frigidity of temperament, that we may be equally sure that the public discourses of such a man will never have either energy or earnestness. Knowledge, we all know, is one thing, the power of communicating it, and communicating it impressively, is another.
To perform, with tolerable success, the office of a public speaker, requires a peculiar combination of talents; and though those talents may be possessed in very different measure by different individuals, no public speaker ought to be absolutely destitute of any one of the more important of them. We are aware, of course, that the church of Christ requires “diversity of gifts ;" that congregations greatly vary in magnitude, intelligence, modes of thinking, and degree of culture, and will require, therefore, ministers of very different orders of inind; further, that there is the utmost variety in the mental constitution of different classes of hearers, and that this will demand corresponding varieties in the mental character of preachers. We are aware that one preacher will excel in argument, another in pathos; one in energy, another in tenderness; this man will be liked for the clear exposition of doctrine, another for impressively enforcing it; and further, that each will attract out of the mass of minds those which most nearly resemble his own, and are, therefore, most likely to be benefited by his instructions. All this may be admitted, and we ought to be unfeignedly grateful for that diversity of gifts which is adapted to the diversity of character in man. Still, the argument is not impaired, that no man ought to be adjudged fit for the ministry who is remarkably deficient in any one of the great qualifications necessary for the clear, impressive exhibition of truth. The reason is obvious: the office of the preacher, no matter what the differences between one man and another, or the different degrees of success with which one may perform this part of it and another that, has universally the same object; it is that of every other public speaker—to influence the conduct and make men act. This involves several processes, individually distinct indeed, yet mutually related—the understanding, the imagination, the affections, must all be engaged, and all of them instrumentally, for the purpose of determining the will. These different elements of our nature may be addressed with varying degrees of success by different individuals, and different proportions in the various talents required may, therefore, consist with success; but the utter absence of any of them must be fatal to it. may excel in argument, but if his discourses are nothing but argument he will never be an efficient public speaker, unless it be at the bar; a man may have some imagination, but if he be utterly destitute of more solid qualities he will never be anything better than a frothy and empty declaimer.
The same observations apply to the cases in which the various
talents requisite for this very complex and difficult function are possessed, indeed, but only in a moderate degree. There are stations in the church of Christ where such a man may well be useful. But still there is a limit, and no man ought to be introduced to the ministry at all who has not strong good sense, a sound judgment, some power of illustrating truth, and some facility of expression, or in whom any one of these qualities is notoriously and hopelessly deficient. In many cases, a decision may be promptly formed; in others, a period of prolonged trial may be necessary, especially to ascertain whether the powers possessed admit of that development which will justify the hope of ultimate success.
We are aware that there are some who will tell us that these are things of secondary importance; that if there be but piety, they ask nothing more; they will be satisfied with truth uttered by a religious man, with whatsoever disadvantages. But we never find these good people acting on this fine theory; we always see that they have their preferences like other folks, and that those preferences are similarly determined; that a very dull, tedious, common-place preacher, is heard by them with just as much impatience as by others; that where two preachers are men of equally undoubted worth, and the matter of their sermons equally excellent, they will be heard with the widest conceivable variety of feelings,—with tedium and impatience in the one case, with eagerness and interest in the other. Such is the constitution of the human mind, and it is in vain to struggle against it; something there must be to stimulate attention, to exercise and occupy the various faculties of the mind—some variety or novelty either in the matter or the arrangement, in the modes of illustration or of expression, and an angel himself would be listened to upon no other terms.
We are afraid that those upon whom devolves the important duty of encouraging or checking youthful aspirants to the ministry, have by no means been so cautious in this point as they ought to have been. Hence the anomalous fact, pointed out in our former article, and still too often witnessed, that while there is a sufficient-often more than a sufficient-number of men who offer themselves for inferior stations, there is often extreme difficulty in filling up important vacancies.
For similar reasons we would have our ministers and our colleges look more closely than they have hitherto done to the physical qualifications of candidates for the ministry. We are quite aware that in judging of them, as in judging of the intellectual qualifications, much circumspection and much tenderness are necessary; that very considerable diversities may be admissible; that a man whose voice, for example, may not be strong enough for a large congregation, may be heard well enough in a small one. Still we must honestly say, that sufficient caution has not been exercised on these points. Wherever there is a decided physical inaptitude, such as no culture is likely to repair, -where, for example, the voice is unusually feeble in compass and tone, and no efforts are likely to remedy the defect,-the youth should be rejected. In all such cases, (as also when it seems questionable whether the general health will bear the restraints of a sedentary life,) medical testimony, if needful, should be solicited, and in reason ought to be decisive. Even supposing that by the stringent application of such principles of judgment, a mind of superior order should be occasionally lost to the church, this evil would be more than compensated by obviating still greater. Instances are not infrequent in which youths, after having entered college, have lost their health, perhaps sacrificed their life, and consumed the public funds to no purpose; or, entering the ministry under incurable physical inaptitudes, have been obliged either to abandon it, or to struggle on in hopeless feebleness, poverty, and sorrow, a burden to themselves, and useless to others.
The pastor and the church who recommend a youth to abandon his original station in life and to enter the ministry, incur, in our opinion, a great responsibility, both in relation to him whose usefulness and happiness are immediately involved in the experiment, and to the church of Christ, to which he is to be a blessing or a curse. The responsibility of the managers of our collegiate institutions is assuredly equally great. We are happy to cite Mr. Alexander in confirmation of our general views. After enumerating certain other qualifications, he says,
“ There is still one thing more which, I think, we are entitled to demand intellectually of the candidate for the Christian ministry ; and that is, a natural fitness for communicating knowledge to others; or, to use the language of the apostle Paul, 'aptness to teach.'* It is well known that a man may be a sound theologian and an assiduous thinker, and yet, nevertheless, fail as a public teacher, from the want of ability to convey what is in his own mind, in a way calculated to affect suitably the minds of others. In the pulpit, we often see persons of great mental powers, large professional attainments, and imbued with a sincere desire to be useful to their fellow men, who are, nevertheless, unable to keep their words from falling pointless and powerless on the great bulk of their auditory ; whilst, on the other hand, we see men of far humbler powers, and who are never destined to accomplish, in the field of high intellectual achievement, one tithe of what the others may have accomplished ; who, notwithstanding, possess, as if by some happy magic, the power of riveting the attention of the audience, as soon almost as they begin to speak, and retaining it through a lengthened and instructive discourse. It is true that much of this power over an audience depends upon qualities of a physical kind-such as voice, look,
* 1 Tim. iji. 2.
and gesture, and that it may, to a very great extent, be acquired by a proper course of discipline and practice ; but even after every needful allowance is made for these considerations, enough will remain to compel the conviction that in some minds there is a natural adaptation for the communication of knowledge, whether by the voice or the pen, which is not found in others, and for the want of which, no tuition, no training, will fully compensate. If, without attempting any minute analysis, I might venture to state, in general terms, what appears to me to be the cause of this difference, I would say that it is in the possession, by the one class, of a more decided inclination than exists in the other, to look at truth in its practical bearings upon the wants and interests of mankind.”—27. 21, 22.
Upon the supposition that a candidate for the ministry, after having been subjected to this rigid scrutiny, is thought worthy of encouragement, we would have him subjected to a diligent training. We have seen so many instances of the failure of young men who have attempted to become ministers without it, that we would never dispense with it.
It matters not where it is given, whether in a public institution or under private tuition, but it should be imparted. Without it a young man becomes painfully conscious, just when it is too late, that he has neither the command of his faculties nor the variety of knowledge which will enable him to meet with promptitude the demands of the pulpit. If he redoubles his diligence in study, he injures his health, and perhaps neglects a portion of his pastoral duties. If (the more frequent case) he shrinks from a combination of tasks too gigantic for an undisciplined mind to encounter, he sinks into indolence, his preaching becomes barren and vapid, and his chapel empty. Of the extent to which we would carry this training, (varying in some cases, according to age and other circumstances, we delivered our opinion very fully in the article before alluded to, and must content ourselves with referring the reader to it. We shall here merely recapitulate the reasons on which a protracted education was there advocated. First, to attain the great end of all education, which is to the mind what gymnastics are to the bodyto give all the faculties their due expansion and derelopment, to render the reason acute, the judgment discriminating, the memory retentive; and to form habits of industrious application, that all the powers of the mind may be prompt and obedient at the call of duty, and engage with vigour and persevere with patience, in any task, however irksome and difficult, to which the real emergencies of life may summon them, instead of sinking back in hopeless and listless indolence, as the undisciplined mind is too apt to do. This, we remarked, is the principal object of a thorough general education, and must be pursued by applying the mind to the study of subjects which best answer the purpose