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- JUNE. .
Φιλοσοφίαν δε ου την Στωικήν λέγω, ουδέ τήν Πλατωνικήν, ή την 'Επικουρείον
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.
Or 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, cach 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 new and subtle popery is to be effectually opposed, it must be by a more energetic use of the same weapon. There has been no signal or general corruption of the church unaccompanied by a manifest tendency to depreciate and neglect this divine institution, to give it a secondary place, and to magnify other institutions of Christianity at its expense. Puseyism is assuredly not without this inauspicious symptom of all false systems, and in this, as in other cases, it is preaching which must at once vindicate the truth from the corruptions which menace it, and avenge the insults which have been cast upon itself.
That the Christian ministry, in any denomination, is characterized by all the efficiency of which it is capable, few would be disposed to affirm. Two years ago, we considered, at some length, the state of our theological colleges, and the modes in which their usefulness might be promoted. We now propose to devote a few pages to a consideration of the modes in which the general efficiency of the ministry may be increased, with a special reference, however, to the functions of the pulpit, and to those collegiate institutions in which the previous training of our ministers for those functions is prosecuted. Mr. Alexander's sermon, in which we are happy to see that he coincides with the views propounded in our former article, affords us a fair opportunity of returning to the subject. Passages of his admirable discourse we shall have occasion to cite in the course of the following pages; in the meantime, we cannot proceed without expressing a hope that it will meet with devout and attentive perusal from all who take an interest in these institutions.
Whatever the defects of our ministry, there is one point, and a most important one, in which, happily, we do not think it capable of much improvement. Our ministers and our churches have ever maintained that the most essential qualification of the preacher of the gospel, that without which it is equally absurd and impious to assume the office, is unfeigned piety, a deeply religious spirit. They hold that this is an indispensable pre-requisite, without which the Christian minister cannot be; that its existence ought to be credibly ascertained before any investigation into other qualifications can be properly entered upon, and that if not possessed all further inquiry may be spared. No genius, no attainments can authorize intrusion into the sacred office without it. It is with unfeigned exultation that we express our conviction, that the denominations to which we more peculiarly address ourselves, have never entertained any other sentiments than these, or acted inconsistently with them. However lax may have been their notions in relation to some other qualifications essential to the due discharge of the ministerial functions, this door, at least, has been jealously guarded. They have never for a moment listened to the appeal, “Put me into the priest's office for a piece of silver, or