Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a morsel of bread,” or for any other unworthy object whatsoever; and we trust they never will. Sometimes, no doubt, they have erred in interpreting the indications of piety ; but it has been their invariable maxim, that its credible appearances should be found in every one who aspires to the ministerial office. This maxim is so obviously rational, that we should be ashamed to say one word more upon the subject, were it not for the prevalence of certain most pernicious errors which just now seem assuming an epidemic character, and which may therefore justify a paragraph or two on the point.

That true piety is indispensable for this office, must, one would think, be evident from the nature of the office itself, which is to allure men to the practice of holiness and virtue. For this reason, there are probably none, at least in our day, who would in so many words contend that he can be qualified to discharge its duties whose life is notoriously immoral,--at open variance with the plainest precepts of the institute he is commanded to enforce. There is such a palpable contradiction in the idea of setting men to teach what they have never learned; to enjoin what they have never practised; to enforce precepts which they contradict by their example; gravely to propound, as of infinite importance, truths which they either disbelieve or virtually disregard, that few could be brought for a moment to countenance it. Such a spectacle may make the religious sad, and the irreligious merry, but can by no possibility have any other effect. Example, which is of great force in all moral teaching, is the Christian minister's chief source of influence—that which best illustrates, recommends, and enforces his instructions, and without which the divinest eloquence will but excite a sneer at the cant and hypocrisy of the speaker, and render the unbeliever more obdurate. Such cases may therefore be dismissed at once. But there are not a few who think that any man, whose life is marked by a decorous regard to the ordinary proprieties of life, even though exhibiting none of the indications of solid and vital piety, may blamelessly assume the ministerial function, if he be but duly authorized by ecclesiastical authority. Such a notion is common enough amongst those who perversely separate the man from the minister—who invest him with an official sanctity which is to compensate for bis personal deficiencies, or who entertain lax notions of the responsibilities and duties of the sacred function itself. Such a notion, we hope, will never be allowed to prevail amongst ourselves. If that day should ever come, that which has so long been the glory of our ministry, and which has counterpoised its many defects, will be gone.

In fact, there is as real, though not so palpable, a contradiction in setting a man who is not a true Christian, however decorous his life, to preach and enforce the gospel, as in setting an immorai man to do the like, and the arguments we have above employed apply equally in either case. For what is it still but to set a man to teach what he has never learned, to enjoin what he has never practised, to explain and enforce spiritual truths which he has never understood or never felt, and to animate to that faith, and love, and zeal, to which he is himself a stranger? Accordingly, we find that those who contend that the primary qualification of a man to preach the gospel is to be sought in his commission, and not in his character, and who would therefore concede the title of a true minister of Christ to the man of merely decorous life, who can plead that commission, find it very difficult to evade the objection, that the argument will go still further, and that those too are true Christian ministers who can plead the supposed commission, even though of profligate or immoral life. Nor are there wanting those who maintain this on the ground that the efficacy of the office must be independent of the character of him who administers it; inasmuch as the very best Christian is imperfect, and that the difference between him and the worst of sinners is of little moment, when both are compared with the standard of perfect purity! At this rate, one would think that it was a matter of very little consequence whether the minister of the gospel were a Christian or no Christian at all; and that the clergy, if but duly ordained, might just as well be chosen by lot out of the mass of the population.*

The infinite importance of this qualification is apparent in whatever light we regard the subject; it is so even if we consider Christianity as a system of preternatural influences, and still more, if we consider it as a system of appropriate, well-adapted human agency, in connexion with which, and not apart from which, those preternatural influences are conferred. The Divine Spirit, ordinarily at all events, operates under the limitations revealed in scripture ; where the promise of his influence is not expressly annexed to the office of the ministry otherwise than as that office is faithfully and zealously discharged. It asks, and

“ The very question of worth, indeed, with relation to such matters, is absurd. Who is worthy? Who is a fit and meet dispenser of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ? What are, after all, the petty differences between sinner and siuner, when viewed in relation to Him whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity, and who charges his very angels with folly ??-Oxford Tracts, No. 5.' The proper answer to these absurd, yet sophistical questions, is, that whatever may be the remaining imperfections of the Christian, he who is truly such differs as much (by the express declaration of scripture) from hinn who is not, as the living from the dead, and a greater difference surely there cannot well be. By restricting, therefore, the functions of the Christian minister to the former, we at all events escape the glaring inconsistency of asking the dead to perform the offices of the living. Whatever bis deficiencies, the man is not called to teach what he has not learned, to affirm what he does not cordially believe, or to enforce what he does not sincerely desire to practice.

will sanction, only an instrumentality which itself approves. It has also pleased Ğod, in a measure, to suspend those influences on the prayers of the faithful-of the church and its ministers. In the case of the ungodly minister, therefore, those earnest intercessions with which he ought to wrestle for the success of his labours and the salvation of his flock, are lost to the church; for how shall he invoke that blessing of which he feels not the value? If it be said (as is often said by those who perversely seek reasons for dispensing with the piety of Christian ministers) that God will not deny his efficacious presence to those who sincerely implore it, merely because the minister is a stranger to it, this is true; but then they are not so likely sincerely to implore it. The spiritual prosperity of the church is dependent upon the efficiency of the ministry, as an apt instrument of its instruction and edification, and this all experience testifies. God dispenses all his blessings in accordance with those great laws of mutual dependence on which the whole world is constructed, and if the church admits or tolerates ungodly ministers, the church will suffer for it. And this brings us to the second point,—that the infinite importance of solid piety to the minister is still more apparent, if we consider Christianity as a system of well-devised instrumentality, in connexion with which its preternatural blessings are conferred. There is an analogy in this, as in very many other respects, between the laws of the spiritual and those of the natural world.

If it be said that there are instances in which the ministry of men, who are in the strange predicament of being preachers without being Christians, has been attended with good, we reply,1st, That the exceptions strongly confirm the rule, inasmuch as such good is effected only where the preacher is still believed to be a Christian, or where there is no sufficient evidence to the contrary; and that when once the mask of hypocrisy has been laid aside, his influence wholly and for ever ceases. 2ndly, That such good is, at the best, partial and limited, and for very obvious reasons. Let the veil which conceals the preacher's true character from the eyes of others, or even from his own, be worn to his dying day, still the want of zealous and earnest piety will taint and enfeeble all his ministrations, and deprive them of their full efficacy. It will, as we have already said, insensibly affect the mode of performing his sacred functions throughout. In the pulpit, or out of the pulpit, he will alike suffer from it. Without piety, deep féeling on religious subjects is out of the question; and without deep feeling, true eloquence on any subject is impossible. Such is the peculiar power of earnestness in the speaker, of manifest absorption in his subject, of a deep consciousness of the truth and importance of what he is saying, that it will give often greater force and weight to common-place than the most original thoughts or the most appropriate expression will possess without it. Now, this earnestness cannot be consistently or effectually simulated.

Still further; the possession of true piety is essential even to a due and adequate apprehension of the doctrines to be propounded and a correct estimate of their relative importance. A purified heart is a better guide to spiritual and moral truth than the most perspicacious intellect without it; the instincts of a nature purged from prejudice, and thirsting for truth, more sure than the sagacity of the acutest reason. Profound meaning, therefore, is there in the words of scripture, that the “secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," and that “those who do the will of God shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”

Nor are these the only ways in which the ministrations of the man who is destitute of true piety will be affected by the want of this cardinal quality. Without it, he must, whether in the pulpit or out of it, be devoid of that moral influence and authority which spring from a character wholly entitled to love and veneration. In that most accurate analysis of the process of persuasion which Aristotle has given us, he correctly assigns, as one important element, the character of the speaker in the estimation of his audience. Intregrity and benevolence, he tells us, are amongst the most essential qualities with which they must suppose him to be endowed. Now, integrity in the preacher of the gospel cannot exist apart from sincere piety, for without this his very assumption of the office is a lie; nor can there be benevolence apart from that sincere compassion for the souls of men, to save which is the very object of his function. If it be said “that it is sufficient that he possess these qualities in the eyes of his audience,” literally to fulfil Aristotle's conditions, we admit it; but the same Aristotle, or anybody else of good sense, will tell us that the only sure guarantee of our possessing and retaining such a reputation, is to deserve it; that where the appearance of piety and virtue is to be habitual and uniform, must extend to the spirit of our words and actions as well as to the letter, will be criticized with so much jealousy, and may be so easily blasted, the only safe way is to possess the reality. Where a difficult character is to be sustained for a whole life, it is easier to be than to seem. For it may be safely said, that he who only seems to be a Christian will sometimes seem to be otherwise, and his character, clouded with doubt and exposed to suspicion, will still be despoiled of its due moral influence. Even supposing that there is no notable delinquency, no glaring inconsistency of conduct, (for we have purposely restricted ourselves to the most favourable cases,) still the taint of an unsanctified heart will rob the minister of that influence which he ought to possess. There will be a want of natural fervour in speaking on sacred themes or in the discharge of sacred functions. Coldness, formality, will pervade all. Respected, such a man may be ; but, in the absence of that piety which can alone be the well-spring of elevated and noble feelings, of Christian heroism, of self-denial, patience, meekness, humility, he can never be the object of enthusiastic love or admiration-an object like Leighton, or Howe, or Bax

Qualities like theirs cannot be perfectly or consistently counterfeited; if counterfeited at all, the effort will be overstrained ; if not, the failure will be still more manifest and deplorable. Thus will the preacher, both in the pulpit and out of the pulpit, be despoiled of that which is more than half his strength--that alluring, that persuasive influence which attends on a truly Christian life, which enforces precept by the greater efficacy of example, makes the homeliest words most eloquent, aids the doctrine addressed to the ear by a visible and most attractive exhibition of it to the eye, and leads on the willing listener from admiration to love, and from love to imitation.

Lastly; nothing less than unfeigned and deep-seated piety will enable a man to endure the trials or encounter the difficulties of this arduous office; nothing else can convert its duties, otherwise insupportably irksome, into a source of delight; nothing else can enlist in their behalf the full energies of the intellect, and the strongest affections of the heart. Without it, those duties will become a routine of wearisome formalities, anticipated with disgust and performed with negligence. The mind, sinking into indolence, will do as little instead of as much as possible, and that little with just so much exertion as shall serve to save appearances. Melancholy, beyond expression melancholy, is the condition of that man who has put on the prophet's garment without the prophet's spirit; who has entered the temple of God, and left his heart on the threshold; whose business is anything but his pleasure; who has to speak perpetually of truths unwelcome to himself, and to dissemble a zeal and earnestness which he feels not. His condition is equally melancholy, whether his heart chafe under the burden of distasteful duties, or be shockingly content to perform them with decorous formality, from the sordid motive of a miserable stipend. Still more melancholy is it to reflect that, by the laws of our moral nature, the very office he thus abuses is preparing for him a terrible retribution, that while his intellect is daily growing more familiar with those eternalverities for which he cares not, his heart is becoming more callous to them; and that in proportion as he apprehends the truth, in that proportion does he recede from it. “The light which is in him is darkness;" or, like that of the stars in mid-winter, shines with a keen, but frosty radiance. Surely, of all the sad spectacles this world of sorrows can present, the saddest is that of the man who, having preached to others, shall himself become a castaway; and though all the paths to perdition are

« AnteriorContinuar »