Massachusetts Pastoral Association.

Sermons online

. (page 7 of 16)
Online LibraryMassachusetts Pastoral AssociationSermons → online text (page 7 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


themselves was originally corrupted by the edifices which
they received from the Pagans. The genius of our re-
formed system should be hallowed by such edifices as
will not be equally fitted for the rites of a christianized
heathenism ; by edifices which are symbols of the pure-
ness, the solidity, the sacredness, the spiritual and endur-
ing nature of our faith. A house for the worship of God
should exclude the light of the world, and admit only the
light from heaven. It should not allow the image of a
saint to interfere with the claims of Him who is a Spirit.
It should instruct the eye with chaste walls, too rich to
be variegated even by a picture, and seeming by their
severe simplicity to enclose the spirit of Him who looketh
on the heart. It is indeed affecting to behold that most
graceful and delicate of all forms, the mother of Jesus, as
she stands over the sacristy where sleeps the broken
body of her Lord ; but during the hour of worship, and in
the temple of Jehovah, we may fitly say to this blessed
among women the same words which were once spoken



33

to her by her son, " Woman what have I to do with thee."
It is indeed ennobling to behold that most exalted of all
figures, the person of our Redeemer, as he stands through
the day and livelong night stretching forth his arms to
welcome the weary and heavy laden ; but he who wor-
ships God must think, — think of heights and depths and
lengths and breadths of grace, and must summon all the
energies of his soul to the duty which archangels perform
with trembling ; and therefore is it more seemly to sur-
vey the lineaments of the Son of man at a less imposing
hour, when the soul is relaxing itself from its severer
duties, and leaning upon the Saviour's bosom. There-
fore let the very walls of a church seem to be awe-struck.
Let its pillars say to us, " Take off thy shoes from off thy
feet." Let it favor the abstraction of the mind. Let it
invite not to gazing at the right hand or the left, but to
contemplation on God. Let everything be massive rath-
er than gaudy, solid rather than fanciful. Let there be
no inconvenience, no ungracefulness, no ughness which
may annoy the worshipper. Let it be neat and unspotted,
even a symbol of the purity of heaven. Let the music
never be the reason why the pretended worshippers as-
semble themselves together. Let it never be the reason
why they remain at home. Let it never grate on the sen-
sibilities. Let it never stir up the soul like the drum and
the clarion. Let it never remind the hearer of a circus
or a dance. It should be expressive, and also impres-
sive. It should harmonize with the spirit of the Sabbath.
It should be an echo of the word that is preached. It
should give emphasis to the voice of prayer. It should
be performed by men " full of faith and of the Holy
Ghost."

But among all the outward attractions of divine wor-
ship, there is none like that of the preacher's natural elo-
quence. No instrument of music is so sweet as the



34

human voice, when attuned as it may be by care. The
most exhilarating band of performers on the dulcimer and
the cymbal will be heard with less pleasure, than he who
has learned to play well on that instrument which is as
far superior to all others, as a work of God is superior to
the works of man. Let it then no longer be said, that
while an organist will spend years in learning to manage
a collection of leaden pipes, the preacher is unwilling to
exert himself for acquiring a control over the stops and
keys of what is far more religious in its tones than the
organ. So likewise the human eye can be made elo-
quent, when the tongue can say no more ; the palm of
the hand, too, has an eye which is full of meaning. But
the philosophy of these organs is neither understood, nor
applied to practice by our preachers. We have inherited
from our Catholic ancestors a most irrational disregard to
the expressiveness of the orator's movements. We bar-
ricade the preacher in a pulpit, which often cuts him off
from the sympathies of the people, and renders it impos-
sible to illustrate the meaning of " the hands that hang
down, and the feeble knees ;" impossible to express vi-
vidly the idea of " standing fast in the faith." Doctor Pay-
son once came down from the pulpit, and stood face to
face before his audience, that he might address them
with the more effect. Doctor Nettleton insisted often on
delivering his discourses from a platform, which gave him
a greater proximity to his people and more of an appear-
ance of sympathizing with them, than he could have from
the " preacher's throne." I would make no strenuous ob-
jection to the simple gown which is sometimes worn in
the ])ulpit, but stiU it must be regarded as in souie re-
spects an unphilosophical contrivance for a sacred orator.
It was not originally designed as an aid to eloquence, but
as a scholastic attire. The objection to it is, it keeps out
of view the natural expressiveness of the human form ;



35

and nature, even if it be a little ungainly, still if it be tin-
fettered nature, is more eloquent than any artifice. When
the old masters have painted or sculptured a Demos-
thenes, a Pericles, a Cicero or a Paul addressing an assem-
bly, they have given to the orator a free arm, so that what
has been called a " stiff elbow " may be a symbol of one
well known emotion ; so that what is proverbially called
a "cold shoulder" may express the idea that belongs to
it. But the prescriptive influence of our Catholic and
semi- Catholic predecessors, who little understood the
nature of oratory, has wrapped the reader of a sermon in
a garb that conceals the meaning of the gesture, and in
the folds of which the eloquence of a man's right arm is,
as it were, " a talent hidden in a napkin^

The genius of a Protestant ministry is that of a rational
eloquence. It calls for no performers of a mass, but for
intelligible speakers, who shall let nature utter her voice
through all the organs which God has made for the pur-
pose of expression. Instead of a marble Peter, frowning
from the wall, and holding the two keys in his hand, it
requires that there stand forth a living Apostle whose
countenance shall beam with a moral sentiment, far more
attractive' than that which sleeps in the marble. Instead
of an image of St. Sebastian, bound to a tree, and pierced
with arrows, let there be a self-sacrificing preacher,
whose voice shall represent a love stronger than the
martyr's, and whose whole mien shall excite more appro-
priate feelings, than can b'e even aimed at by the chis-
selings of man. This is the fitting attractiveness of Pro-
testant worship. It is the attractiveness of truth express-
ed. It changes as the phases of the truth change. It
never thrusts itself into the place of the gospel. The
proper eloquence of the pulpit can never be thought of
and spoken of, while the theme of that eloquence is for-
gotten. That were a solecism in language. Real elo-



36

quence is not a distinct substance. It is the truth rightly
communicated. It is the truth, not intercepted by a dead
intonation, by a forced gesture, by an awkward attitude,
by aftectation of grace and pohteness. A poor dehvery
is that which comes between the sermon and the audi-
ence, and obtrudes its own stiffness, its own tameness
and Hfelessness, its own mannerisms upon the notice of
the hearer. If we were Romanists we might neglect the
gift of speech, and hope to aUure men into the sanctuary
by the gorgeousness of our ceremonial. But we have no
pompous ceremonial on which to rely, and therefore must
resort to an appropriate elocution, as the highest outward
grace of a Protestant service. If we dwelt in a land
where the preacher is the only man who ventures to ad-
dress an assembly, then we might lean on this privilege,
and rest assured that a faulty eloquence in the pulpit is
better than none at all among the people. But we dwell
in a land where the laymen are popular orators ; where
the mechanic is master of a racy, vigorous diction ; where
the reformed inebriate can electrify an audience, who
will sleep under a lifeless sermon ; where the enemies of
religion and social order have caught the spirit and the
fire which the ministry have lost. Other men can speak
without reading; and unless we can use in a good cause,
the weapons which Infidels use in a bad one, we shall
surrender the truth to dangers which can arise nowhere
but in a republic. Nowhere but in this republic is the
force of popular eloquence felt universally; and the
church will be overborne, if this force be not controlled
with unwonted skill.

If eloquence be the virtue of Protestantism, so is it with
emphasis the virtue of American Protestantism ; so is it
with double emphasis the virtue of that form of Protes-
tantism which prevails in New England. We, my breth-
ren, are well nigh shut up to the faith fitly presented. We



37

have little else to depend on ; . and for this very reason,,
may our services be made more attractive than if we re-
lied on artificial forms. Notwithstanding all that is said
of the baldness and frigidness of our sabbath services, it
is still a fact that they can he made more permanently
pleasing than the services of any church that boasts of its-
rubric and its liturgy. The freedom which we enjoy is-
favorable to the cultivation of eloquence. Our forms of
worship are elastic and pliable, and will accommodate
themselves to the exigencies of the day. An unbending-
ritual is the product of " dark ages." When we offer
prayer, we are not required to hold a volume in our hands,,
and open our eyes upon the words of other men ; but,,
like Solomon in the temple, may lift our hands to heaven
and shut our eyes from the world, and may speak as the
Spirit giveth us utterance. We give to the preaching of
the gospel a degree of moment, which is taken away by
the unskilful repetitions of the Common Prayer Book, and
which claims to be represented by an earnest and im-
pressive utterance. I admit that we have lived too un-
conscious of the capabilities of our system. We have
neglected the gift that is in us, and have deserved too
many of the criticisms we have. received. We have al-
lowed too great a monotony in the structure of our
prayers, and have sometimes used an unwritten liturgy.
We have not sought to recover the naturalness of man-
ner which an artificial education has perverted. We still
allow our theological seminaries to remain destitute of all
adequate instruction on this theme.* We have also un-

■* It is confidently believed, that if professorships of elocution were
properly endowed and supplied in our theological seminaries, a more
immediate and a more manifest service would be rendered to the pul-
pit, than can be performed by almost any other charity ; for the de-
partment of elocution is now more neglected than any other, and if
nature were allowed to resume the place, from which the worst spe-
4



38

dervalued the sanctity of our houses of worship, and
seemed to look upon them as dedicated to the service of
God, and to meetings of the town ; to scientific lectures,
and to lyceum-debates ; to drunkards not yet half reform-
ed, and to demagogues who have sullied the holy associ-
ations of our pulpits. We have kept our communion
tables as depositories of books and pamphlets and news-
papers. We have allowed our people to sleep through
the sermon, and then to leave the sanctuary as if they
were hastening away from the benediction. But we miist
resist these and kindred evils. They are needless. We
should preserve onr tabernacles amiable, so that every
one may be glad, when they say unto him : " Let us go
unto the house of the Lord." Above all we should re-
member, that the glory of the outward house is as nothing
compared with the attractive power of the word of God,
which maketh even the human body a temple of the Ho-
ly Spirit. While then a preacher may not disregard the
comeliness of the sanctuary, still he should say, and say
it with the faith of an apostle, " Raise me bat a barn, in
the very shadow of St, Paul's cathedral, and with the
conscience-searching powers of a Whitefield, I will throng
that barn Math a multitude of eager listeners, while the
matins and the vespers of the cathedral shall be chaunted
to the statues of the mighty dead."

In the last place, it is especially incumbent on the New
England ministry to defend and peipetuate, so far as a
sound judgment may approve, the principles of our Puri-
tan fathers. We do not imagine that our ancestors were
perfect men, nor that they are worthy of so much rever-
ence as we should pay to the truth itself Still they
were well-read and far-sighted men, and had a peculiar

cies of art has expelled it, the improvement in our speech would be
seen and felt more f:asily, quickly, and general! ij than almost any other
kind of improvement.



39

sagacity in discerning spiritual relations. They were
qualified to perceive, that the great conflict among nomi-
nal Christians would be, at last, a conflict between spirit-
uality and formalism in worship ; between simplicity and
parade in ecclesiastical discipline. They saw, almost by
intuition, that the very structure of the church of England
was in favor of too much form, and too little substance ; that
some of its inherent tendencies were adverse to the rights
and the cultivation of the individual conscience.* There-
fore they forsook that church, and sought a home for the
true principles of Protestantism on the soil which we in-
herit. The world have a right to expect, that a ceremo-
nious religion, though patronized by foreign courts, shall
not become dominant in the land of the Pilgrims. It is
expected of us, that we shall preserve our churches as an
asylum for the principles of the Reformation, that we
shall resist the very beginnings of a superficial formalism,
and the very first attempts to impose upon us the yoke
which our fathers were not able to bear. It is expected
of us by our brethren in Europe, that we shall not sleep
as do others, but shall watch the signs of the times. We
must not regard certain prelatical assumptions in New
England, as insulated facts, but as parts of an extended
system, which is coming into vogue the world over. The
leading idea of this system is, to place the church first
and Christianity second ; to satisfy men with a ritual, and
let the conscience sleep ; to organize men into a compact
denomination, rather than make each man feel his indi-
vidual responsibility to " walk with God." It is a singular
fact, that within the last fifteen years there has been a
waking up of the spirit of high-churchism among all the
hierarchies of the world. There has been a sympathetic
movement throughout Christendom ; and what was once

* See Appendix, Note A.



40

low in the prelacy, is now not so low ; and what is high
at present, bids fair to rise higher and higher. No one
can read the journals of the Catholic church without feel-
ing that the Papacy was never more aggressive, more
successful, more confident of ultimate success, than at
this very time. An influential school of English divines
are bold in maintaining, that their national church is not,
and never has been, and never ought to be, truly Protes-
tant ; that her liturgy* and her homilies are, and should
be, adverse to the genius of the Preformation ; and that
the spirit of such men as John Newton and Thomas
Scott, is at variance with the very constitution of their
church. The successor of St. Peter has lately declared
in the Vatican, that a large party of the church of En-
gland have everything essential to popery, with the single
exception of the pope himself This party is daily in-
creasing. It is becoming more and more formidable to
its adversaries. It is favored by much of the talent, and
piety, and self-consistency of the church. It has excited
a sympathy for itself in our own land. It forms the van
of a long procession that is wending its way toward
Rome ; multitudes are pressing into its train, and too of-
ten, when they have once begun their march, they are
escorted onward from one degree of church-glory to an-
other, until sooner or later they plant their feet at Oxford,
which licth hard by the " eternal city." Strange to tell,
some of our own Puritan brethren have set their faces
thitherward I The voice of our fathers' blood cries to us
from the ground, and urges us to oppose this singular ten-
dency in their sons. It is not merely the result but also
the approach to it ; not merely Romanism but also the
incipient inclination to it, which we must withstand. We
have no moral right to remain pusillanimous, and allow
the dialect of New England to become like that of Britain ;
* See Appendix, B.



41

onr churches to be called no churches but mere sects ;
our brethren to be called no church members but mere
schismatics ; oiir clergymen to be called no clergymen,
but mere lay-preachers.

We believe that our principles are those of fraternal
communion with all who are fellow laborers with Christ
Jesus ; therefore are we bound to struggle for these prin-
ciples, against any attempt to introduce a sectarian ex-
clusiveness into the place of a charity which recognizes
the claims of all good men. We believe that onr princi-
ples are those of fraternal cooperation with all sects who
love the spirit of the gospel ; therefore are we bound to
sustain these principles, against any attempt to prove
that our baptism is uncanonical, and our communion at
the Supper an unwarranted observance. We do not aim
to budd up our own denomination at the expense of
another equally evangelical ; but we do wish to discour-
age that assuming spirit, which excludes the great major-
ity of pious men in New England from the pale of a true
church. We are not pleading the cause of our own sect
against the welfare of others ; but we are pleading the
cause of many sects against the exclusive claims of a hie-
rarchy. We appeal to the Searcher of hearts when we
say, that we have striven and are yet striving for a cath-
olic union of all evangelical men in eflbrts to promote the
common welfare. We differ from the advocates of a pre-
lacy in some important particulars; still, those divines
who preach the simple gospel may be admitted to our
pulpits although we be excluded from theirs ; and some
of us are willing to partake of their sacramental bread,
even while they would deem it almost a sacrilege to par-
take of ours. In defending the practice of catholic com-
munion and a generous fellowship of ministers we are
not sectarian, but are opposing a contracted policy which
involves the essence of Romanism. We do not often
4*



42

preach on the " excellence " of our mode of prayer, on the
" apostolicalness " of our government, or on any of those
■minor peculiarities which distinguish us from our breth-
ren. But we cannot allow, it is not just, it is not honora-
ble, that others should endeavor to fill our land with sec-
tarians rather than with simple-hearted Christians. There
is a spirit of intolerance and formalism which is insinuat-
ing itself from our mother-countiy into our own, and
which must be stifled in its earliest progress, or it will
soon prevail beyond our hope of resistance. It has been
recently said by some English divines, " The light that is
in a merely conscientious dissenter is (what Christ has
called) darkness."* And they have set forth " a sort of
graduated scale," on which we see that Judaism is high-
•er than Mahoraetanism, Mahometanisra is above Hindoo-
ism, the faith of the North American Indians is more ele-
vated than Polytheism, and that, " so far from its being a
strange thing that Protestant sects are not ' in Christ ' in
the same fulness that we (the Episcopalians) are, it
is more accordant to the scheme of the world that they
•should lie between us and heathenism."! It is painful

'* Tracts for the Times, No. 51. p. 5.

t Tracts for the Times, No. 47. p. 3. In " A Doctrinal Catechism
of the Church of England," published in London, are the following
■questions and answers :

Q. Are not dissenting teachers mini.sters of the gospel .'

Ans. No — they have never been called after the manner of Aaron.

Q. Is it not very wicked to assume the sacred office .''

Jlns. It is ; as is evident from the case of Korah, Dathan and Abi-
ram, mentioned in the 16fh chapter of Numbers.

Q. Who appointed dissenting teachers ?

Jlns. They either wickedly appointed each other, or are not ap-
pointed at all, — and so in either case their assuming the office is very
wicked.

Q. But are not dissenting teachers thought to be good men .•*

Alls. They are often thought to he such, and so were Korah, Da-
than and Abiram, till God showed them to be very wicked.



43

to say that language of similar import has been some-
times heard within our own borders, and that a spirit is ris-
ing among us, which, if not resisted speedily, will make
such language familiar to our children. It is the spirit
which transforms the motto " Christ and the church," into
the motto " the church and Christ." Already have some of
our laymen been told that their pastor was never really
ordained ; and they have therefore walked no more with
us. Our candidates for the ministry have been pointed
to the bishops' robes, that float before the fancy of young
men ; and some of them have gone where, it may be,
they will realize the tempting vision. Our ordained
clergymen have been approached with assurances that
rich preferments awaited them, if they would cast con-
tempt on their ordination, and kneel down in worship.
" Come unto us," has been the language addressed to one ;
" for we have peace within the church but all is division
out of it." " Come unto us," has been the language ad-
dressed to a second ; " for we need your aid in quieting
our dissensions." " Come unto us," has been the lan-
guage to a tliird ; " for the church has a beautiful unity."
" Come unto us," has been the language to a fourth ; " for
the church is made the more interesting by the varieties
which are embraced in it." " Come unto us," has been
said here; "for we have a creed which prevents all
such discussions, as will always prevail among dissen-
ters." Come unto us," has been said there : " for we

Q. But may we not hear them preach .''

Jlns. No ; for God says, " Depart from the tents of these wicked
men." — It ought to be added, that the Oxford divines often admit
that dissenters may be truly pious ; and say, " that long established
dissent affords to such as are born and bred in it a sort of pretext, and
is attended with a portion of blessing, (where there is no means of
knowing better,) which does not attach to those who cause divisions,
found sects, or wantonly wander from the church to the meeting-
house." — Tract, JVo. 47. pp. 3, 4.



44

always ensure the greatest freedom of thought and de-
bate." " Come unto us," has been whispered in this
place ; " for the church is truly and securely evangeUcal."
" Come unto us," has been intimated in that place ; " for
we stand in perishing need of evangehcal men, who may
save us from the reign of fashion and vanity." " Come
unto us," has been the invitation to a pastor, who had
been ordained without a display of apostolical succession ;
" for although you have been often ejected from your pul-
pits heretofore, we will give you a staff of office which
no popular majority shall take away ; we will save you
from exhausting labors ; we will furnish you with prayers
already made, and will allow your sermons to be few, and
short, and inoffensive." " Come unto us," has been the
inviting ofier to a missionary ; " for we need your services
in awakening among our clergy the spirit of missions,
and we can write your name and give you a title among
the patriarchs of the East."*

Thus have we heard the voice of invitation, and after-
ward our ears have been saluted with the note of triumph.
Proclamation has been made in high places, that within
the last thirty years, " about three hundi-ed clergymen
and licentiates of other denominations have sought the
ministerial commission from the hands of" bishops ; that
two-tliirds of all " the present clergy of the church,"
" have come from other folds," and that of two hundred

* In regard to the measures which have been adopted with the de-
sign of persuading Cona;regational and Presbyterian candidates for
the ministry to " take holy orders," much remains to be said. The
preceding description has been given by way of preface ; and it were
painful in the extreme, to be compelled to write the whole chapter.


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryMassachusetts Pastoral AssociationSermons → online text (page 7 of 16)