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trines of grace, and by manifestation of truth, and of the
whole truth, commend himself to every man's conscience
in the sight of God, and he will soon discover that he is
not in the shortest way to popular favor. He will see
itching ears averted from him. It will be whispered to
him, that such an one is not fed by doctrinal preaching,
and is longing for some good practical sermons. Another
does not understand the doctrines, and thinks it unprofita-
ble to hear them till he does understand them. Another
thinks it a mistake in God to have revealed them. An-
other thinks it unwise for ministers to preach them. An-
other has thought that ministers had long ago laid aside

these shocldng points of Calvinism, an<l is astonished to
hear them preached in tliis enlightened age. And another
will not hear them at any rate, and will leave the congre-
gation if the minister continues to harp upon them.
Most truly is the text descriptive of the taste of this gen-
eration. The time has come when men will not endure
sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will accumulate
to themselves teachers.

We may therefore find a fit subject of discourse, in the
causes of the prevalent indisposition to endure sound doc-
trine, or, in other words, the causes of the decline of doc-
trinal preaching.

I speak not now of the great and parent cause — human
depravity — which is omnipresent in its action, and which
in some degree works in both saints and sinners, and often
makes the moral vision blench from beholding the full
beams of gospel truth. Even where grace really but
feebly exists, there yet lurks much of the loving of dark-
ness rather than light — so that there always will be,
more or less of dislike of doctrinal preaching. Bat our
purpose now is, to look for causes of a decline, in the
public taste for such preaching.

To this decline both ministers and people have con-
tributed. A failure to preach sound doctrine, is a cause
of forming the public taste against it. And whatever may
have occasioned a failure to preach the doctrines, as they
should be preached, must be reckoned among the causes
of a public disrelish of them.

One cause of the decline may lie, in an unskilful hand-
ling of the doctrines by those who have preached them.
Some have so connected the gospel doctrines with their
metaphysical theories, that their preaching has been unin-
telligible to the mass of their hearers ; and thus they have
raised a prejudice against all gospel doctrines. Others
have separated the doctrinal from the practical, and pre-
sented doctrines as a dry skeleton of theology, rather than


as a body of living and breathing truth. If the public
ear had never been abused by the separating of what God
has joined together ; if Christian practice had always been
inculcated as drawing its main enforcements from the
doctrines of grace, and if, when doctrines were preached,
they had been preached as the divine and overpowering
persuasives to a holy life ; the sickly disrelish of doctrines
would have less prevalence. If the gospel must be rent
in twain by its preachers, it matters not which of the
fragments you retain. They who inculcate the practical
and experimental religion without the doctrines, as the
basis of experience and practice, and they who present
the doctrines like truths in geometry, with no bearings on
the conscience, equally contribute to estrange the public
taste from them. It is as needful to show the use, as to
prove the truth of the doctrines. There must be not a
mere brandishing of the sword of the Spirit, to show its
gleam and polish, but also a use of its edge and point.
We have not done with the preaching of the doctrine of
depravity, for instance, till we have brought the hearer with
a broken heart to the foot of sovereign mercy. We have
not done with the doctrine of the atonement, till we have
fixed faith's eye on the Lamb of God, and given a firm
seating to the truth, that being bought with a price we
are not our own. Nor is God's sovereignty well preached,
till the joy of the heart is awoke, that the Lord God Om-
nipotent reigns. Nor the Trinity, till the hearer is made
to see it the ground work of all his hopes, the platform of
the most thrilling truths of the gospel. Now so far as
this connection between the doctrinal and the practical
has been overlooked by preachers, they have contributed
to turn away the public taste from doctrinal preaching.

Again, in so far as preachers have distrusted the power
of the doctrines, and blenched from an urgent demonstra-
tion of their stronger points, they have fostered this viti-
ated taste. If any have forgotten that these truths are

the products of God's wisdonij and may therefore be
safely trusted as the instruments of God's work, to go
freely in among the passions and consciences of men — if
any have relied on their own prudence and skill, to cut
and trim to the caprices of their hearers — if any, instead
of coming squarely forward to the work, and laying on
with the whole weight of the weapons of our warfare, so
massive and keen, are fourjd with soft hand patting the
lion's mane and stroking the leviathan's scales, the whole
course of their preaching is their testimony against the
safety of sound doctrine. If the preacher be afraid of the
doctrines, it were strange if the hearer should not take the
contagion of his fears. If every sermon should contain
an argument to prove it unsafe to preach the doctrines,
that would be a most untractable congregation that would
not be convinced of it, after having line upon line and
precept upon precept. Yet every sermon from which fear
excludes the doctrines, is such an argument, and the more
convincing because it is a practical argument. Thus the
preacher's fears, groundless at first, soon create good
grounds to fear.

But what shall he do ? If his hearers will not listen to
the whole truth, is it not better to give them the part of
truth which they will hear, than to drive them off when
positive error is preached ? That is not so clear. Positive
error is not so much worse than negative error. Holding
back the truth makes error of what is preached, by throw-
ing it out of joint and proportion. Besides, negative error
indulged, will most surely beget positive error. Almost
all forms of error have their first spring in minds not pre-
occupied by sound doctrine. The question then amounts
to this — if hearers will not hear us preach the truth, had
we not better preach Universalism than drive them off
to Universalists ? And that answers itself.

But this alternative is presented to our fears oftener than
it exists in reality. The foolishness of God is wiser than


men. In giving shape to his revelation, he did not make it
all very good, except in one particular, and in that particular
commit the grand mistake of leaving it bare of every thing
that could command attention. He is not guilty of a
revelation that needs false dealing to gain a hearing. But
he has given us one which requires us to renounce the
hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor
handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifesta-
tion OF TRUTH, commending ourselves to every man's con-
science in the sight of God. If this gospel be from God,
though it may be that owing to previous false dealing in
a given time and place, men will not endure sound doc-
trine, no course of preaching in the long run^ and all
other things being equal, will lay as broad and deep a
hold on the public mind, in this depraved and shattered
world, as that which brings most fully out the spirit of
the whole gospel. By heaping to yourselves teachers,
and gratifying itching ears, by novel inventions and
spiritual empiricism, and by humoring depraved tastes in
covering up the offensive doctrines, you may draw de-
lighted throngs around a distorted gospel. But that tide
must have its ebb. The mass of mind not being rooted
and grounded in the truth, is just prepared to be swept
like chaff in another direction, by the next counter-gust
of wind. Yea, it is fitted to be carried about by every
wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning
craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.

A superficial, partial course of preaching, on its first
introduction into a community, not preoccupied by sounder
views, will usually attract the most hearers. Even Christ's
preaching sent some away complaining, " These are hard
sayings, who can hear them." And if Christ had kept
back some offensive points, he might have retained some
hearers which he lost. Yet such preaching as that of
Christ and his apostles, will ever be found to have been
\ most honored of God, in attracting a ransomed world

around the cross. The great question for the preacher to
settle, is not what will raise the broadest cloud of dust for
the moment, but what will best reach the heart and fit it
for heaven ? a heaven built on the foundation of those
truths, which are a stumbling block to the Jew and
foolishness to the Greek — not what will make the tallest
edifice of wood, hay and stubble, but what will rear the
broadest temple of lively stones, built up a spiritual house ?
It is a reflection on the wisdom of the master-builder, to
fear to build after his plan. And the preacher's distrust
of the power of divine truth, has averted the taste of many
a hearer from sound doctrine.

Indolence of thought, both in preachers and hearers, is
another cause of this distaste. It prevents preachers from
laying in the resources, for bringing forth things new as
well as old on doctrinal themes. The well is deep and
they have nothing to draw with, and hence have not that
living water. It is much easier for them to skim the
surface, and gather the dew, of what is misnamed prac-
tical preaching. And for the hearer, doctrinal preaching
too much taxes the intellect. He is too indolent to grasp
the higher themes of Christian truth. Unless he have
acquired from early instruction, or from some sense of the
importance of truth, or from an inherent aptitude of mind,
or what is more, from the sanctifying power of the Holy
Ghost — a taste for such subjects, there will be more or
less aversion for a kind of preaching, which so taxes the
thinking powers. And this indolence of thought is fos-
tered in proportion as preachers shun the doctrines. It
better suits an easy, cushioned piety, to sit and be passively
borne along by hortatory appeals, and entertained with
sparkling illustrations, than to hold the joints and follow
the train of a doctrinal argument. And hence many can-
not endure sound doctrine.

Another cause may be found in a superficial religious
training of the young. Our congregations now are reared


in the Sabbath school. Formerly, Christian parents at
least j had a sense of responsibility touching the religious
education of their children. Their children went abroad
to school for secular education, but the more sacred part
of their training was done in the family — the school
which God has organized, mainly for this purpose. But
the introduction of Sabbath schools has operated to too
great an extent, to take off from Christian parents the
sense of responsibility before felt, and to throw it upon
the Sabbath school teacher. The result is, the religious
instruction has gone over a greater surface, and brought
the hopes of salvation to many who would not have been
reached by other means. Yet what is gained in surface
is lost in depth. The aggregate of instruction imparted,
may be greater, but the few leading minds who guide the
tastes of the rest, have not so deep acquaintance and relish
of the doctrines. In the commencement of the Sabbath
school enterprise, fewer guards against superficial teaching
were used. Sad experience had not then as it has now,
taught us the danger of holding the mind in a play around
the shell and husk of truth. It was a new thing to teach
children the geography, history, botany and zoology of
the Bible. And in the zeal created by this novelty, the
theology of the Bible was in a measure forgotten. And
the results of this omission now begin to be developed, in
the tastes of our congregations. The child, reared to
superficial thinking, has become a man, rejecting the pith
and marrow of the gospel. We had better ministers and
better hearers, when the child was put to conning by rote
a catechism, which he did not understand, and held upon
it till he did understand it, and in understanding it, was
put in possession of the higher relations and harmonies of
eternal truth.

This source of evil is aggravated by the shallowness of
our current literature. If that sort of literature which is
most circulated is most read, we must expect the public


taste to be sicklJ^ To simplify and illustrate, and relieve
the reader of all burden of thinking, seems to have been
the main design of the nursing fathers of the popular
mind, in their contributions to our literature. And that
popular mind has been made an invalid by its over delicate
nursing. It has been approached in its easy chair, its
food composed chiefly of simples or vegetable productions.
For want of appetite for strong meat, thought has been
attenuated and attenuated, and reduced to pulp and noth-
ingness, or whipped into a syllabub of beautiful froth, or
served up in fiction as in a sugar plumb — yea, it has been
even masticated if not digested lest it should cost the con-
sumer too much effort. Thus he has had his intellectual
growth without toiling or spinning. From the child's
first book to the mathematician's last, (a book reached by
few,) this labor-saving principle has pervaded most of our
books of instruction, and marred whatever it has touched.
And our books for popular reading have been made with
the same design. What now if some one should write and
publish a book like the ponderous folios of the Puritan
age, — a book in which shall be found solid ingots of
thought, lifted from the mine with giant hands, without
polish or artificial attraction? What a sensation would
the prodigy create ! Nay, what ruin would it bring upon
the publisher, and what oblivion upon the author !

And the religious popular reading has been smitten
with the same debility. The process of grinding divinity
of other days down into modern use, has been so accom-
modating to indolence, that comparatively few books for
general reading have appeared, which either tax or pro-
mote the vigor of thought. There have been honorable
exceptions to this remark ; but we speak in general terms.
Mind has been treated as if its labor were a malum in se ;
and thus crippled by its own inertia. The religious news-
paper, the penny pamphlet, the religious novel, the
ephemeral biography, the book of travels, have taken the


place in families, which in other days, Flavel, Howe and
Baxter filled to great acceptance. And as to vohnnes of
printed sermons, the very sight of them invites to drowsi-

Now when it is home in mind that the popular taste is
adjusted to such a hterature, secular and religious ; and
that our congregations come from such reading to the
hearing of the word, it is no wonder that so many cannot
endure sound doctrine.

Then the active and stirring character of the present
age aggravates the difficulty. The mind and body of the
business world is propelled by steam. And its reading
and thinking must be done in great haste. And they who
write for such readers and thinkers must so write, that he
that runs may read ; they must put their thoughts where
one may catch them when passing in a rail-car.

Here, then, is a train of influences most adverse to a
preparation of the public mind to receive sound doctrine.
In former days the pulpit dispensed its treasures among a
people deeply read in the lively oracles, and in the pro-
ductions of the shining lights of the Puritan age. And
the difference is that, between preaching to a congregation
of Baxter's readers, and to a congregation of Bulwer's

Then our improvements in the mode of theological
education have brought no relief to this difficulty. Theo-
logical seminaries have greatly increased the advantages
of students, and that in some respects to their disadvan-
tage. They have carried the student's mind over a
greater surface, but in too many instances failed to carry
it to the needed depth of acquaintance with systematic
theology. Formerly it was the custom for theological
students to spend most of their time upon the system of
theology, and that for want of the means of extensively
pursuing the collateral branches. But now the tendency
is in the other extreme. The novelty of the pursuit of


the other branches in theological seminaries, gave it an
undne popularity. Attainments in biblical literature,
church history, sacred rhetoric, and the like, imporlant
in their place and proportion, have been sought at the
expense of weightier matters. A little of every thing has
been acquired, in time which ought to have been spent in
digging deep and laying the foundations well in the prin-
cipal thing, duinctilian's rule, that much reading of a
few books, should be preferred to the slight reading of
many, has been violated. Much effort has been put forth
through the press and other channels — ex-cathedra
opinions of our distinguished men and theological profes-
sors, have been circulated to magnify the relative im-
portance of biblical studies over doctrinal theology. Such
representations, coming from such sources, and with the
charm of novelty, and untested by experience of their
pernicious tendency, created a strong current against such
studies as were needed to give thorough acquaintance
with the doctrines as a system. And now we are reaping
the fruits. It is not uncommon for young men, of the
first standing, to come from the seminary, and shovsr,
when examined for ordination, a miserable deficiency in
what should have been the main branch of their theologi-
cal studies. While they come forth to be teachers, they
have need that one should teach them the very first prin-
ciples of the oracles of God. They may have rich stores
of Greek and Hebrew lore, but they have failed to use
those riches as the means of putting forth in plain Eng-
lish, the great truths of the gospel. And that not because
they have not been diligent students, nor because they
have not had able and laborious instructers in doctrinal
departments. But because their labor has been misdi-
rected by the taste and fashion which has been given to
the schools. Their mind has been under a train of influ-
ences, disparaging doctrinal knowledge and its means.
They have been made to feel that a sort of vulgarity and


obsoleteness was attached to this ^^ dogmatic theology''^ —
that other departments were more befitting the erudite
and finished scholar, and promised more of the furniture
of a popular and distinguished preacher. That such a
current has been running through our seminaries, I trust
none will dispute. But if this be fact, it is no wonder
that our congregations are trained to disrelish sound doc-

Another mischief has lurked in our seminaries. German
literature and German theology, (a muddy pool,) has been
let in upon the fountains of our theological science.
Because the infidels and pantheists of Germany had
excelled in Greek and Hebrew letters, they were wel-
comed with distinguished honors, and recommended to
our sons of the prophets, as fit helpers to the true inter-
pretation of the Bible. German seminaries have been
minutely described, and German masters have been mag-
nified in the admiring ears of our young men. And that
veneration of talent and learning, which is so powerful
an element of the young student's mind, was carried over
and placed upon the masters of the German schools. Our
young men have been taught, that though these German
masters were many of them rejectors of the divine
authority of the Bible, this circumstance was in some
sense an advantage, inasmuch as it made them more im-
partial, and free from' sectarian bias. Just as if that obli-
quity of moral vision, which led themselves away from all
truth, was just the thing to qualify them to lead others
into all truth. Here is a surrender of the principle, that a
right heart is needful to a right understanding of the
Scriptures. And it involves the principle, that the Devil
himself, because he has great talents, and no sectarian
bias, would be a fit helper to theological studies. Thus,
instead of making deep acquaintance with Edwards, Bel-
lamy, and Witherspoon, of our own land, and the masters
of Puritan theology in the father land, whose intellects,


inferior to no Germans of this day, were chastened and
guided by the Holy Ghost, we have placed our young
men at the feet of those Gamaliels who know not whether
there be any Holy Ghost. The result of giving such
popularity to infidels, and transcendentalists, has been that
time has been wasted in threading the mazes of error,
and piety has lost its tone in converse with an infidel
spirit. The intellectual vision has been blurred by
attempts to read and interpret the Bible in the colored
twilight of an infidel philosophy. Thus the free use of
German literature has, in spite of all its advantages, done
much to depress the standard of knowledge in theology,
and diminish the amount of clear and sound instruction,
coming from our pulpits. There has been more of bibli-
cal literature, but less of the soul and spirit of the Bible
has been poured out over our congregations. We know
perhaps more of the botany and zoology of Palestine, more
of the rushes that grow on the banks of the Jordan, but
less of the system of salvation that was finished upon Cal-
vary. And the error here has not been, in the use of the
means of biblical instruction, but in such a use, and in the
use of SUCH means, and in their use beyond the due pro-
portion. These ought ye to have done, and not to leave
the other undone.

Unitarianism, with its nearer affinities to German tran-
scendentalism, cannot live in its atmosphere. It has culti-
vated German literature till some of its most valued sons
have imbibed the spirit, and are glorying in the delirious
illusions, of a wretched pantheism. And though the
descent from oiir ground would be farther and more diffi-
cult, it would be no wonder, if it should be taken by
some ; so long as our course of theological study is made
to lie through the dreams of pantheistic writers. And we
are fairly called upon, in the providence of God, to review
and test the wisdom of the policy, which installs an infidel
philosophy to give law to the piety of the sons of the


Pilgrims. Can we wonder that the people will not endure
sound doctrine, when the ministry studies theology with
German spectacles, and walks for years in the fogs of

If the object of this converse with the master spirits of
pantheism, were to prepare the ministry to combat their
delusion, and if our young men were led to the examina-
tion of their theories, with that express design, the object
of the study would remove the danger. And unless the
signs of the times deceive us, there will be occasion
enough for public refutation of pantheism. To say nothing
of recent developements in this country ; a recent writer
from Europe says, that ^'pantheism is the great heresy of
the nineteenth century. The St. Simonians were panthe-
ists. The followers of Charles Fourier and Robert Owen
are mostly pantheists. The celebrated Hegel, professor
in Berlin, publicly taught pantheism to some thousands of
pupils, who have spread this doctrine throughout Ger-
many. Several professors in France maintain the same
opinions. To their ranks are now added Messrs. de
Laraennais and Strauss. Let Christians of all countries
be warned then ! Our real adversary, our great enemy,
at the present time, is pantheism ! It threatens us, it
besets us on all sides ; it aims to strangle Christianity in
its gigantic arms. Against pantheism we nmst whet our
swords and direct our blows ; this is what we have to
conquer and destroy." In this posture of things, there
seems to be a sad and absurd mistake in our sending our
young men to school to pantheistic writers, and that under
the impression that such are valuable interpreters of the

Again, some of the machinery used to promote revivals,
has aggravated the evil. Protracted meetings conducted
by itinerant evangelists, usually leave an impression un-
favorable to doctrinal preaching. The very design of
such meetings, got up for the sake of producing a revival,

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Online LibraryMassachusetts Pastoral AssociationSermons → online text (page 3 of 16)