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Whether that state of religious prosperity which we usually denominate a revival of religion can be expected to continue for years without abatement? If the views already advanced, respecting the tendency of an earnest and impassioned presentation of Gospel truth to abate its own power, by frequent repetition, are correct, it certainly shows that revivals of religion must be of limited duration, while the laws of the human mind are unchanged. Whatever theories we may entertain, all history and observation show that such are the facts.
Conceding, then, that at some times, and wherever it shall appear to the church that God's set time to favor Zion has come, it is the duty of his ministers to exhibit truth in those forms, and under those aspects, which is sometimes called revival preaching, the question still recurs, what should constitute the themes for pulpit discussion at other times ?
The great business of the pulpit is both to instruct and excite the human mind. To do either alone, fails of securing the object in view. Mere hortatory preaching, consisting extensively, as it must, of appeals to the passions, does not succeed well in promoting a revival of religion, unless there is coupled with it much instruction. Men must be convinced of duty, as well as excited to its appropriate discharge. Though we would not lay aside whatever is fitted to excite, in the more general instructions of the pulpit, it is yet true, that a very great proportion of the topics appropriate to the pulpit, are unsuited to an effective rise of impassioned appeals. The districts in our own country, where one half the population are habitual attendants upon evangelical preaching, are very few. The most favored towns of New England, with exceptions too few to be named, have a large population that are rarely, or never, found within the walls of the sanctuary. The remark has a more extensive application to the Western states. A certain class of these attend whenever there is a revival of religion. Warm appeals, the general excitement, the novelty of scenes where hardened offenders are found in tears, and urging the blind man's prayer before the throne of grace, call them out, and not a few of them are converted. There are still other classes who are moved by no such scenes; and if there be not something in the ordinary style of pulpit discussions to awaken their curiosity, or address their love of intellectual improvement, they will pass through life within the hearing of the church bell, as indifferent to the claims of the Gospel as a French infidel. Can sich men be interested in any subjects that are appropriate themes for the pulpit ?-is an important inquiry with those who desire their salvation. Besides, if topics may be discussed in the pulpit that are devoid of that dryness and that severity which repel such men, it is more than possible that the same discussions may
impart zest to the services of the sanctuary in the minds of another class, who, though from the force of education and habit they are ever present in the house of God, yet go there to sleep rather than to hear.
No one will doubt the truth of the remark, when it is asserted that many sound, discriminating, excellent pastors, preach for a quarter of a century together, while every sermon in the series is as argumentative, and made up as exclusively of abstract discussions, as is the Epistle to the Romans. Now, to learn the effect of such preaching upon the youthful and unconverted mass of any community, let any parent try the experiment of interesting his child in the Bible, by putting into his hand Paul's Epistle to the Romans, or the Sermon on the Mount, bound up as a separate tract, while the other portions of the Bible are never placed within reach of the child. What would be the result? Much like an attempt to instruct a youth in the differential calculus, while you kept him ignorant of optics, mechanics, astronomy, and their kindred sciences. You disgust him with the whole business of education in your endeavor to train his mind to appreciate the abstruse and higher truths only.
The Bible method is far otherwise. There is not only great diversity in the style, and a wide range in the topics introduced; but there is a beauty of illustration, which charms the unconcerned reader, and wins him often, as it were, unawares, into admiration of the Gospel, even when his heart is unreconciled to its Author. Let us look, for a moment, at the field which is open for pulpit discussion within the limits which are sanctioned by the inspired volume itself.
Atheism, as a bare and unadorned theory, has few advocates, and fewer admirers; and yet, a very large portion of the laboring class never arrange the proof of God's being and attributes, so as to give it any systematic or reliable shape in their own minds. Their belief in a God is rather the fruit of education, or of original convictions, that may at most said to be instructive, than the sober deductions of reason. But our faith is firmer and more operative, as our convictions are more rational and have a more intelligent basis. We say, then, let every minister of Christ regard it as a no less important part of his public instructions, to unfold the proof of the Divine existence and attributes, than it is to preach Christ and him crucified.
As a mere argilment, Paley's work will remain unrivalled as it has; but with the present advanced state of the natural sciences, and the modern investigations in natural history, there is room for vast improvement in the interest and the diversity of the illustrations that constitute the attractive part of the argument. A mine of wealth has been explored since the elaborate work of Paley was written, of which its author had no conception. The pastor
who cannot make the young and the thoughtful of his congregation hang upon his lips, and become intellectually charmed with the field on which God has impressed the great lineaments of his own character, has lived and studied with but half his duty before his mind.
Let it not be said that all this is foreign to the suggestions of the inspired volume. The most beautiful and impressive illustrations of moral truth in the Bible, are derived from the physical creation. Whoever has read the parable of the sower, the story of Christ weeping over Jerusalem, the description of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Christ at his baptism, Christ's conversation with the woman of Samaria, and a great variety of the most inimitable scenes in the prophecies of the Old Testament, cannot fail to have admired the appositeness and beauty of the allusions there found, while he is impressed with the truth of the Psalmist's declaration, that the works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. The intelligence of a congregation is by such a course not less enhanced than their moral improvement.
Nor is there a less inviting field in that department of Biblical instruction, that would come under the head of "Evidences of Revelation.” Take, as illustration of this remark, the instruction that may be communicated in connexion with the fulfilment of prophecy. Let us suppose that the preacher selects for his text--Egypt shall be the basest of kingdoms; or they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from off her, and make her like the top of a rock; or, that thrilling passage, respecting the doom of Idumea, which describes it as lying waste from generation to generation. With such themes, let him collect froin the best authorities the history of the greatness, the splendor, the commercial importance of these cities and countries, which the Lord hath cursed, while from authentic modern travelers, he gathers up the graphic pictures of their present ruins. Let the present and the past be placed in striking contrast, while due prominence is given to the causes that have been in operation to produce the results. That congregration must be stupid indeed, that cannot be made to perceive the truth of prophecy, and feel the power and terribleness of God's arm, in avenging himself against the sinner, in the discussion of such topics. While it puts into the hand of the preacher a moral lever, of immense power, it may, at the same time, be made attractive, by the fund of information which it spreads before the eager eye of those anxious to improve their knowledge of the present and the past. The manner in which the preacher of the Gospel used sometimes to win attention to a practical sermon, by giving a historical introduction, is, we doubt not, among the cherished reminiscences of the scenes that
transpired in the worship of the sanctuary, with not a few of our readers. Like the commendatory prefaces of some of Paul's Epistles, it secured the attention, and prepared the way for a severe reproof, which might not otherwise have gained the ear, much less have reached the heart. Far more effective may be made a thorough discussion of those great historic scenes that are intimately related to the prophecies of the New Testament.
We might advert to a great variety of themes that would appropriately come under the head of topics, collateral to the preaching Christ and him crucified. We will detain our readers but with one more.
There is more of literal truth than is commonly supposed, in the remark of Israel's royal preacher, that “the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.” There are great cycles in the moral world. As events roll on to the same point in the cycle, the same events rise to meet the eye; the careful student of the past, finds, on almost every page of the records of other days, scenes which not inaptly lead him to feel that he is reading prophecy. The age in which he lives, and in whose scenes he participates, seems to him to have sat for the picture which was spread upon the canvas by the artists of centuries long gone by.
There is no form of error, be it ever so repulsive, that lures from the narrow path, the feebler, or more dull, or more enthusiastic disciple of the nineteenth century, but has had its day, done its mischief, and fallen into a centennial sleep in some previous age. Every fashionable and every silly form of human folly, has its place in the cycle. Nor is it without its points, rich in benevolence, and fruitful in the devisings of warm hearts and the promptings of Christian love, that deserve the approbation, no less than the other the reprehension of the faithful of our day.
Nor is there any more effective method of enforcing important duties, or combating pernicious errors, than hy bringing their origin, their bearing, and their results, their whole history, from the dust of ages, and revealing it to the eye of those whom we wish to warn or instruct. Much of the fanaticism, and many of the forms of error that sprang up at the time of the Protestant Reformation, in spite of the holy men who were the chief actors in that drama, were scarcely less like the errors and fanaticism of the present age, than the successive editions of a stereotyped book. They bear the same image and superscription. History, under such circumstances, becomes prophecy, and, with this advantage, that the confirmation of the beginning, by existing facts, conduces strongly to a confirmation of the end, so as to reveal the probable termination of many things now in their highest state of prosperity.
This, moreover, is the inspired method of rebuking error and sin. The “first Christian martyr” never preached a more effective sermon than the historical discourse which he delivered when on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrim. Paul, on one occasion, at Antioch in Pisidia, preached a similar sermon, and with such effect, that on “the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the Word of God.” Nor was an a wakened curiosity the only result. He “persuaded many of them to continue in the grace of God," notwithstanding the violent persecutions that drove him from the place. Every intelligent pastor might give, year by year, a connected series of discourses on Church History, each series covering some great epoch in the annals of the church, pointing to some distinct form of error, ex posing the craftiness, or uninstructed zeal, or fanaticism of some ancient sect of religionists, or the lordliness of some tyrannical old hierarchy of the church. We would not have each successive series protracted so as to weary or disgust, nor mark out specific methods. Our only object has been, to suggest one mode, which may be taken as illustrative of the various modes that will suggest themselves to minds differently constructed, or meet the wishes of men of different, or opposite tastes.
That a style of pulpit discourses thus diversified, will not aug. ment the duties of the ministry, and call for much of that study which is a weariness of the flesh, is not claimed. Nor is it a valid objection to such an appropriation of the time of the pastor, that the parish is clamorous for more pastoral labor. However urgent may be the plea for “more visiting," there are few congregations that would not regard better and more varied preaching as an excellent substitute for pastoral visits. The weeks would be shortened by the anxiety for the intellectual feasts of the Sabbath, and the intervals between each successive visit would be less carefully noted. It is not so much the superior value of the fire-side instructions, as the wish to cultivate an affectionate interest in the pastor, that calls for an increased frequency in his visits. When this affectionate interest is secured by the greater excellence and happier variety of his pulpit efforts, the same end is gained, and in a way that is both more acceptable and more permanent.
The objection may be felt, by some who are less favored than their brethren, that an incompetent salary deprives them of a library of such extent and diversity, as would afford the requisite aid for a more extended range of topics for the pulpit. The common doctrine of political economy, that the demand regulates the supply, well applies in a case of this kind. There are few parishes whose young men would not feel it a privilege, at the close of every such series of discourses as has been contemplated