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THE EVANGELIC EPISCOPAL, AND THE CONGREGATIONAL PULPITS.
Vicar of Glasbury, Brecknockshire; and Minister of Saint
pp. 440. 3. Sermons on various Subjects. By James Slye, Potterspury.
London: Ward and Co. 1836. pp. 472. 4. The Irish Preacher. A Collection of Original Sermons. By
Evangelical Ministers. Dublin: Robertson and Co. 1836.
288. 6. Discourses on the grand Subjects of the Gospel. Chiefly de
signed for Villages and Families. By William Oram, Wal-
pp. 485. 9. Miscellaneous Sermons. By the late Rev. Hugh Stowell, Rector
of Ballaugh, Isle of Man, Author of the Life of Bishop Wil
son, 8c. London: Nisbet. 1837. pp. 256. It has been said by a distinguished writer, that “the object of the philosopher is to inform and enlighten mankind; that of the orator, to acquire an ascendant over the will of others, by bending to his own purposes their judgment, their imagination, and their passions."'* If such be all the object of the mere orator, it ought not to be the entire object of the christian preacher. Christianity is a religion of knowledge. Its doctrines are founded on facts; whilst those doctrines themselves constitute a second, and a most important
* Stewart's “ Philosophy of the Human Mind," second Ed. p. 497, VOL. I. X. S.
series of facts; and though a knowledge of its doctrines may be separated from an experience of its efficacy, or the practice of its duties, yet an experience of its cfficacy, and the practice of its duties, cannot be separated from a knowledge of its doctrines. It must then be the object of him who teaches a religion thus constituted, not only to bend, to the purposes he contemplates, the judgment, the imagination, and the passions, that he may, by this means, acquire an ascendant over the will, but he must also inform and enlighten the mind; or rather, he must first enlighten the mind, that through the medium of an enlightened mind he may influence the judgment, the imagination, and the passions, and that thus he may enlist the will in the service of God and of religion.
But although the Christian preacher ought to address every power of the mind, it is evident that different preachers, and even different classes of preachers, adopt rather different means of effecting the great object which they contemplate. While many discourses address, and rightly address themselves to every faculty, there are some preachers who speak chiefly to the understanding, and others chiefly to the heart; some to the imagination, and others to the conscience. Some evidently labour to find out acceptable words; others, provided they are assured of the verity of the message, care little about the mode of its conveyance. Some employ all the force of argument, while others rely on the efficacy of a simple statement of the truth. Some enter profoundly into the Christian scheme, while others dwell almost exclusively on the rudiments of the gospel. In adverting, for instance, to the Evangelical Clergy, and to the Ministers of the Congregational denomination, we perceive a considerable agreement in religious sentiment, and some agreement in their modes of preaching; but while there is a general agreement in the last-named particular, there are evidently some points of difference.
The evangelic episcopal pulpit dwells more upon the first principles of religion, and especially upon those first principles of religion which are directly opposed to self-righteousness, than does the congregational. A few vulgar prejudices excepted, the popular mind in England is too generally a tabula rasa on the subject of religion; and minds destitute of all religious information, whenever they think of religion at all, think of it in a form altogether adverse to the grace of the gospel ; while so far as religious sentiment is possessed amongst the people at large, it is of a character which, at least, creates a danger of self-righteousness. It should be remembered too, that in early life many, perhaps most, of the evangelical clergy, cherished the same pharisaical notions as the rest of their countrymen; and not a few of them entered on their ministry under the noxious influence of principles subversive of the Christian scheme. We are not then surprised that many, we should not perhaps depart from the truth in saying, that most of the evangelical clergy employ the greater portion of their ministry in direct attempts to destroy self-righteousness, and to point the transgressor to the only foundation of hope. And although this is a style of preaching not much adapted to promote the advancement of Christians who
have passed their noviciate, yet, considering the character of their auditories, and especially their rural auditories, it is the best, which, in many instances, the evangelical clergy can employ. Still we are not sure, that in such instances there are none of them who dwell too exclusively on the themes to which we have referred. We lately happened to hear a sermon delivered to a large and interesting congregation, in the parish church of a secluded, but rising, wateringplace. The discourse was altogether of the character in view. As the sermon proceeded, and especially toward its conclusion, we could not help asking, “ is self-righteousness the only evil to which our nature is subject? Are there none of these well-dressed, and, in temporal respects, well-conditioned people, who will readily allow the preacher to bring human nature just as low as he pleases, provided he does not disturb them in the love of sin, or in the love of the world ?" We almost longed for the temporary possession of a pulpit, from which episcopal sectarianism had shut us out, that we might tell the people, before they departed, in far plainer terms than the respected preacher had done, “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
Among the Congregationalists, the preacher must take a wider range. He preaches mostly to a different class of hearers-hearers who, from their childhood, have been trained in scriptural knowledge and in piety; many of whom have read much, and some of whom have thought deeply, on the subject of religion. The preacher to auditories which are thus constituted, thus at least to a considerable degree, must not only, to use the Apostle's language, furnish “ milk” for the “babe," " but strong meat” for “ them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Considering the different character of their auditories, it is quite right that congregational ministers should take a wider range of subjects than their conforming brethren; and yet, some private conferences, and some deathbed scenes, have induced a belief that there is more self-righteousness amongst ourselves than we are apt to think, and that we should do well to give more prominence than perhaps, except in our occasional and evangelizing services, we generally do, to the initial style of preaching, which so extensively prevails amongst the best ministers of the Establishment. Dissenting ministers are in danger of neglecting this kind of preaching, not only on account of the character of a great part of their auditories, but also on account of the circumstances of their own early life. The far greater part of them have been religiously educated ; they have learned the first principles of religion, not by a painful personal inquiry,* but at the same time, and by the same means, as those through which they learned the elements of general knowledge: and hence they are in danger, especially when preaching to congregations, of whom, it may be pre
* A painful personal inquiry, it should be remembered, which leads some, sô prone is our poor nature to err, to mistake an acquisition of knowledge for the reception of divine grace.
sumed, that the greater part have been placed in similar circumstances to themselves, of forgetting the surrounding darkness, and of neglecting the efforts which they ought to make, in order to disperse it.
The evangelic episcopal pulpit is considered as distinguished by greater simplicity of language than the congregational. Simplicity is, in every respect, one of the greatest ornaments of preaching ; but simplicity of language is a subject on which a vast deal of misconception prevails, and prevails sometimes amongst persons, whose education might have tanght them better. Simplicity is supposed to be the opposite of elegance; it is supposed that when a speaker or a writer becomes elegant, he ceases to be simple : a greater mistake cannot exist, for simplicity of language is an essential character of elegance.
Poverty of thought and feebleness of langnage are frequently mistaken for simplicity of expression. We do not charge the established clergy with these faults; but we are quite sure that the same discourses which, as heard in a parish church, are, by certain amphibious dissenters, described as beautifully simple, would, if delivered from a dissenting pulpit, be deemed tame and insipid ; whilst the preacher, if a stated minister, would soon be left to enjoy his beautiful simplicity alone.
The language of sermons, like that of every other species of composition, ought to be suited to the immediate subject; and while, on the part of every hearer, the silly fastidiousness is avoided which takes umbrage at a legitimate and an expressive word, because it does not happen to be included within the narrow compass of his vocabulary, the preacher ought always to prefer the most familiar terms, and the simplest forms of expression. To present superior thoughts—thoughts at least above the level of the generality of a congregation, in a form which would bring down those thoughts to the commonest capacity, and almost seduce it into a belief that it was only thinking at its ordinary rate, has always appeared to us as one great secret of good preaching. By this means an intellect in the lowest degree of improvement may be helped to grasp views which it could no more originate than it could create a world, and from which, unless they had been lowered to its comprehension, it would have turned with disgust. Some beautiful examples of the sort of preaching in view occur in the sermons of the late Mr. Toller, and he who can compass it, while he will benefit his flock spiritually, will contribute more, perhaps, to the improvement of their understandings than any direct effort for that purpose could effect.
Nor is it difficult to account for the seeming difference between the evangelic episcopal and the congregational pulpit on the score of simplicity. The education of the episcopal clergy lays an excellent foundation for knowledge; but the goodness of the foundation seems to be too frequently regarded as superseding the necessity for labour in raising the superstructure. In few instances has the dissenting minister so good a classical education in his youth as his conforming brother ; but, speaking generally, he applies far more diligently in his maturity to the studies which strengthen the under
standing and refine the taste. The conformist, in too many cases, ceases to be a student when he leaves his college. With the nonconformist the claims of service are so numerous, and that service, under God, depends so entirely for its efficiency on the freshness and the activity of his own mind, that when he ceases to be a student, so far as usefulness is concerned, he must cease to be a minister; he must be a student or a nuisance. Hence the application is cherished which, independent of the will of the preacher, will render his language far more correct and animated than that of the neighbouring parish church; a correctness and an animation which, in connexion with familiar terms and simple forms of speech, is a real benefit to the flock.
The evangelic episcopal pulpit has been commended as less argumentative than the congregational. The evangelic clergyman asserts the doctrine on which he has previously satisfied his own mind. He abounds in descriptions of an individual under certain states of thought and feeling; and in this mode, which is seldom heard in dissenting pulpits, he most felicitously displays the nature and effects, the rise and progress, of true religion; but rarely in an argumentative form does he grapple with an adversary. On the other hand, the congregational minister, though not often employed in formal debate, has frequently a vein of argument running through his whole discourse. And though an abstract style of preaching cannot be too much deprecated, we consider the latter of the two modes just referred to as answering to the inspired examples of instructing established Christians. The apostolical epistles are the only documents which can discover the mode in which the apostles instructed Christians who knew the first principles of the religion, and these epistles are often closely, and even profoundly argumentative, far more argumentative than any prudent man would make the oral discourses which he designs for general use. Indeed, though congregational ministers have been reproved for the argumentative character of their discourses, yet, using the term argu. mentative in the sense of scripturally demonstrative, we doubt whether they are sufficiently so to meet the exigencies of the times. It has been justly said, “ we have become men of action, but it is to be fcared we have partially ceased to be men of research and meditation. We do more, but we think less, and know less, than our forefathers." " This is a less complimentary, but it is a juster language than that which celebrates the astonishing light of the age, a light which is supposed to be inseparable from the useful, but frequently over-rated, agencies of mechanics' institutions and cheap publications on the sciences. In such an age it becomes christian ministers to increase, rather than to diminish, the scripturally demonstrative character of their discourses; for, as the writer who has just been quoted observes, “ the real piety of an age, though it may doubtless fall considerably short, can never be in advance of the knowledge of that age.” We have hitherto written chiefly on the defensive. In the par
* Dr. Payne's Lectures, Preface, p. vi.