Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Many a little rill of thought, of emotion, and of holy endeav. or, started by the faithful herald of gospel truth, of which neither himself nor his people ever dreamed, will doubtless, after myriads of revolutions, burst forth in rivers of joy and praise, and flow on with augmenting volume for

ever.

Many causes contribute to confine the pastor's influence to this invisible sphere. Some attendants on his ministry are naturally reticent. They never disclose their innermost sentiments ; not even those most interesting to themselves, such as the majority of mankind cannot well suppress. Some are too diffident to utter their convictions or to express their feelings. Others have too little knowledge of language, especially of its nicer shades of significance, to describe the more subtle and attenuated workings of the moral sensibilities. Many have too little aptitude for introspection, too little internal vision, to seize and define the thousand fleeting emotions and desires, which, while they whirl through the mind, mould the character; much less are they competent to assign their true origin and to trace their progress in giving tone to life. Multitudes are therefore exceedingly liable to attribute their convictions, even their conversion and spiritual growth, to other than the real

the stated ministry. These indirect influences of the faithful pastorate are often its richest. There are also hearers of the word who have a peculiar delicacy of feeling, who shrink from protruding their individual interests on the attention of others, particularly their more hallowed enjoy. ments, such as communion with Christ inspires. Besides, many of the deepest emotions of the Christian life, the sweetest hopes, the purest joys, the loftiest aspirations, the unutterable affections of the still hour, awakened by glimpses of the height and depth of gospel truth, are too exalted and fine, too much like the experiences of heaven, ever to find fitting expression while in the body. He surely cannot be deemed visionary who expects, in the progress of immor

cause

THE HIGHEST END OF PREACHING.

93

tality, to discover results of pastoral labors most wonderful, infinitely surpassing the loftiest flights of imagination to conceive while an inhabitant of earth.

A septence hath formed a character, and a character subdued a kingdom.”

his own.

The preaching of glad tidings has also a higher end than the good of the individual. The gospel with all its blessedness is not an end in itself. It has two ulterior ends : the salvation of men and the glory of God; and, separately considered, the last is a far richer good than the first. The highest end of moral existence is the divine glory, or the just conception, appreciation, and love of God's being, perfection, and government, constituting, in rational intelligences, the elements of a blessedness pure and glorious as

The highest end of the gospel is identical with this grandest design of the universe ; for in the divine scheme of mercy, devised and executed in harmony with divine justice, the whole of Jehovah's character shines forth. The highest end of the gospel ministry is, therefore, the manifestation of this glory. It is successful when sinners are saved. It is successful when sinners, instructed, invited, warned, admonished, but still persistent in impenitence, perish. By salvation realized, the divine mercy is illustrated. By salvation offered and rejected, divine justice is illustrated.

This profoundest design of the gospel message, lying in the depth of the Divine mind, and shining there with a brightness almost dazzling to the strongest seraphic vision, can, of course, never reach its full realization in tirne ; it must be reserved among the “ things unseen and eternal.” It can be enjoyed here only by him who is exalted into the higher regions of Christian experience, when the soul is rapt into holiest sympathy with God; only by him who is illuminated by the dawning of that sublime, almost awful beatification which the heavenly hosts are represented as enjoying when they sing “ Hallelujah !” over the ruined enemies of the church. When the minister of Jesus, purged

of selfishness, rises into this loftiest Christian experience, becomes emphatically one with God, he can rejoice with something of those seraphic emotions which will find their full activity only in the final blessedness of the righteous ; he can take sublime pleasure in the thought that every sermon he preaches, every word of invitation, of admonition, of warning, he utters, will show forth with everincreasing distinctness the justice of the sentence pronounced against the finally impenitent. Hence he will be faithful to his solemn trust as an ambassador for Christ. He will keep in view the great day of final reckoning. Realizing his responsibilities, he will “ preach the word ;." be “instant in season and out of season ; " and do all that in him lies to rescue his hearers from the doom of the wicked ; sensible that he must give account of his stewardsbip to him before “ whose face the earth and the heaven" shall flee away. Tears even will give force to his entreaties and warnings. He will exhort the people of God to work and pray, and weep with him. But if those, thus warned and entreated, will perish in sin, he can look up to God with joy beaming through his tears, and be comforted with the assurance that tbis opposition to truth and disregard of atoning love, while unutterably offensive to God, will not rob bim of a ray of his glory. Time-serving ministers, and those who flutter along the surface of the gospel, may be almost appalled at this sublime view of unselfish exultation in the vindication of divine justice and glory; but not the Christ-like, who love to dwell on the deep things of God, who have enjoyed feeble foretastes of these loftiest felicities of heaven.

Similar to these were the abiding convictions of Mr. Woodbridge respecting the design and success of the gospel ministry. He not only soared into these upper regions of Christian thought; but at times enjoyed in harmony with his Master the same exalted experiences. By them he was enabled to “endure hardness as a good soldier.” He

SUPPORT IN DISCOURAGEMENT.

95

knew that God would be glorified by his persevering efforts, “ though Israel were not gathered.” No man rejoiced more than himself in visible successes, in powerful revivals, when sinners were seen crowding the way to Zion, and Christians awaking, stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the forefront of the battle. Yet in days of discouragement and trial he could fall back on these august truths as a reserved support, and rejoice in the glory of God; just the intellectual views and Christian experience indispensable to the widest efficiency of the minister of Christ ; not only because the Holy Spirit specially attends these central gospel verities, but because their clear and pungent presentation reaches furthest into the soul and touches the innermost springs of moral activity ; thereby starting broader and deeper currents of those incidental influences of ministerial labors, which, by replenishing and purifying the fountains of social welfare, extend a vitalizing power which no mere human sagacity can trace or estimate.

As we have intimated, Mr. Woodbridge for the first five years of his ministry witnessed few of these marked results which he so earnestly desired. Until near the close of 1815 the number of admissions to the church had been only twentyeight. • Truth, however, was rooting and thought awaking.

There are minds of a peculiar mould which readily seize on anything new. The

very fact of its newness whets their appetite for it; even while their former views were more congenial to their selfish tastes, and the reception of the stranger severely chides their former practice. Such step with ease into new modes of thinking, and readily blaze with zeal in new courses of action. Others ascend with difficulty into new regions of thought, and creep slowly along new lines of activity. Novelty deters them. They are fascinated with old ways. The easy swinging motion of “the old ruts” best pleases them. Pressed with argument, they must deliberate. Entreated, they hesitate, question, doubt. Urgency often throws them into the attitude of resistance.

They must work out the problem for themselves. We can do little more for them than keep their thoughts at work in the right direction. Sometimes the new truth is welcomed only after the severest conflict.

While the Holy Spirit may in sovereignty make use of only a few truths in enlightening the reason and quickening the conscience to such a degree as intelligently to convict the sinner and lead him a penitent believer to the feet of Jesus; yet as all gospel truths are “ profitable,” were revealed for the express purpose of becoming moral forces in the soul, the IIoly Spirit usually works with more efficiency, both in beginning and maturing the Christian life, when these forces have found their way into the mind in such numbers and in such symmetry of adjustment, as profoundly to affect the different faculties and susceptibilities of the soul. While the Spirit has by no means limited itself in its working on the human spirit to the rules of philosophy, nor compelled itself to wait on this slow operation of the human reason in opening its windows to one beam of light after another, till the full splendors of revelation have poured themselves into it; yet the Spirit ordinarily waits on these natural methods of thought, and leaves the truth to work its way into the chambers of the intellect, to pierce the conscience and to burn on the sensibilities according to their respective laws; processes of thought and feeling demanding alike time and reflection.

We may justly expect the most thorough revivalistic work of the Spirit in churches where gospel truths in their symmetrical relations are most fully and cordially received.

Mr. Woodbridge not only saw religious truth with great distinctness, but had the ability and disposition so to exhibit it to others, that they could see it with similar distinct

He well knew what he meant to say in every sermon, and his attentive hearers knew equally well at its close what he had said. With this definiteness of scriptural thought he stood up Sabbath after Sabbath before his congregation of from five to seven hundred immortal beings, with the

ness.

« ElőzőTovább »