William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 89 of 169)
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not mean to condemn ; for this, even when
most daring:, is simple and intelligible. I
would cautfon you, not against nature, but
against artificial processes, against distrust of
simple truth, against straining for effect,


against efforts to startle or dazzle the hearer,
against the quackery which would pass off
old thoughts for new, or common thoughts
for more than their worth, by means of in-
volved or ambitious phraseology. Prefer the
true to the dazzling, the steady sunlight to
the meteor. Truth is the power which is to
conquer the world ; and you cannot toil too
much to give clear perceptions of it. I may
seem to waste words on so plain a p)oint ; but
I apprehend that few ministers understand
the importance of helping men to see reli-
gious truth distinctly. No truth, I fear, is so
faintly apprehended. On the subject of reli-
gion, most men walk in a mist. The words
of the Bible and of the preacher convey to
multitudes no definite import. Theology,
being generally taught without method, and
as a matter of authority, and before the mind
can comprehend it, is too often the darkest
and most confused of all the subjects of
thought. How little distinct comprehension
is carried away by multitudes from our most
important discourses. My Brother, help men
to see. Christianity was called Light, and
you will be its worthy teacher only by being,
like its first ministers, a " light of the world."
It is a common error that, to avoid dulness —
the most unpardonable sin of the pulpit—the
preacher can find more effectual means than
the clear expression of simple truth. Ac-
cordingly, some have recourse to crude novel-
ties ; some to mysticism, as if truth, to be im-
posing, must be enthroned in clouds ; some
to vehemence ; some to strong utterance of
feeling. Of course, I would say nothing in
dispamgement of feeling ; but I am satisfied
that there is no more effectual security
against dulness than the unfolding of truth
distinctly and vividly, so that the hearer can
lav a strong hold on great principles, can
take in a larger extent of thought, and can
feel that he has a rock for faith and opinion
to rest on. In the natlu-al world, it is Light
that wakes us in the morning, and keeps us
awake through the day; and I believe that
to bring light into God's house is one of the
surest ways of driving slumber out of its
walls. Let me add, that to give at once
clearness and interest to preaching, nothing is
more necessary than that comprehensive wis-
dom which discerns what is prominent and
commanding in a subject, which seizes on its
great points, its main features, and throws
lesser matters into the background, thus se-
curing unity and, of consequence, distinctness
of impression. Nothing is so dull as a dead
level, as monotony, as want of relief and pci^
spective, want of light and shade; and this
is among the most common causes of the
dulness of the pulpit.

The remarks made under the present head
are liable to a misapprehension, which may

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be usefully guarded against. I have con-
demned affected and obscure phraseology.
Do not imagine that I would recommend to
you a hackneyed style. The minister, to give
distinct, vivid impression, must especially be-
ware of running the round of commonplace
expressions. He must break away from the
worn-out phraseology of the pulpit. He must
not confine himself to terms and modes of
speech which familiarity has deadened. So
mighty is the influence of time and habit in
emptying words of life and significance, that
truth in every age needs new forms, fresh
manifestations. Happy the teacher who is
able to give out truth m language original and
bold, yet simple and unforced, and such as
causes no offence to cultivated taste or reli-
gious feelin|^.

Perhaps it mjw be objected to the advice
now given, that 1 have recommended a plain-
ness and distinctness not to be attained by the
preacher. It may be said that religion relates
to the Infinite; that its great object is the In-
comprehensible God ; that hiunan life is sur-
rounded with abysses of mystery and darkness;
that the themes on which the minister is to
speak stretch out beyond the power of imagi-
nation, and of course do not admit of mathe-
matical predseness of statement ; that he has
aspirations and feelings too high, and deep,
and vast, to be accurately defined ; that at
times he only catches glimpses of truth, and
cannot set it forth in all its proportions. All
this is true. But it is also true that a minister
speaks to be understood ; and if he cannot
make himself intelligible he should hold his
peace. Language has but one function, and
that is to help another to imderstand what
passes in the speaker's breast. What though
he is surrounded with the incomprehensible ?
Is he, therefore, authorized to spcaak in an un-
known tongue? Amid the vague and the ol>
scure, are there not facts, principles, realities,
of unutterable moment, on which he and
others may lay hold? Even when he catches
broken ghmpses. he can report these simply
and faithfully, so as to be apprehended by a
prepared mind. The more difficult the sub-
ject, the more anxiously the art of clear ex-
pression should be cultivated ; and the pulpit,
which gathers together the multitude, and
addresses its rapid instruction to the ear, de-
mands such culture above all other spheres.
This is the last place for dark sayings; and
yet he who carefully studies expression will
find the pulpit a place for communicating a
great amount of profound and soul-stirring
thought to the world.

I have said, you must preach plainly. I
now add, preach with zeal, fervour, earnest-
ness. To rouse, to quicken, is the end of all
presiching, and plainness which does not
minister to this is of litde worth. This topic

is too familiar to need expansion ; and I in*
troduce it simply to guard you against con-
struing it too narrowly. The minister is often
exhorted to be earnest in the pulpit. You
will be told that fervour in deHvering your
discourse is the great means of impression.
I would rather exhort you to be fervent in
preparing it. Write with earnestness, and
you NviU find little difficulty in preaching ear-
nestly ; and if you have not poured out your
soul in writing, vehemence of delivery Mrill be
of little avail. To enunciate with voice of
thunder and vehement gestures a cold dis-
course, is to make it colder still. The fire
which is to bum in the pulpit must be kindled
in the study. Preach with zeal. But let it
be a kindly zeal. Always speak in love. Let
not earnestness be a cover for anger, or for a
spirit of menace and dictation. Always speak
as a brother. With the boldest, sternest,
most scornful, most indignant reproofs of base-
ness and crime, let the spirit of humanity, of
sorrowful concern be blended. In too much
of the zeal of the pulpit there is a hardness,
unfeelingness, inhumanity, more intolerable
to a good mind than sleepy dulness or icy

I have said, preach plainly and preach ear-
nestly ; I now say, preach with moral courage.
Fear no man, high or low, rich or poor,
taught or untaught. Honour all men ; love
all men; but fear none. Speak what >xni
account great truths frankly, strongly, boldly.
Do not spoil them of life to avoid offence.
Do not seek to propitiate passion and preju-
dice by compromise and concession- Beware
of the sophistry which reconciles the coo-
science to the suppression, or vague, lifeless
utterance of unpopular truth. Do not wink
at wrong deeds or unholy prejudices, because
sheltered by custom or respected names. Let
your words breathe a heroic valour. You are
bound indeed to listen candidly and respect-
fully to whatever objections may be urged
against your views of truth and duty. You
must also take heed lest you baptize your
rash, crude notions, your hereditary or sec-
tarian opinions, with the name of Christian
doctrine. But having deliberately, conscien-
tiously sought the truth, abide by your con-
viction at all hazards. Never shrink from
speaking your mind through dread of re-
proach. Wait not to be badced by numbers.
Wait not till you are sure of an echo frocn a
crowd. The fewer the voices on the ade of
truth, the more distinct and strong must be
your own. Put faith in truth as mightieir
than error, prejudice, or passion, and be ready
to take a place among its martyrs. Feel that
truth is not a local, temporary influence, but
immutable, everlasting, the same in all worlds,
one with God, and armed with his onuupo>
tencd. Courage even on the side of error is

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power. How must it prove on the side of
tnilh I A minister speaking not from selfish
calculation, but giving out his mind in godly
sincerity, uttering his convictions in natural
tones, and always faithful to the light which
he has received, however he may give occa-
sional ofifence, will not speak in vain ; he will
have an ally in the mond sense, the principle
of justice, the reverence for virtue, which is
never wholly extinguished in the human soul.

You are peculiarly called to cherish moral
courage, because it is not the virtue of our
times and country, and because ministers are
especially tempted to moral weakness. The
Protestant minister, mixing freely with society,
sustaining all its relations, and depending on
opinion for bread, has strong inducements to
make a compromise with the world. Is there
not reason to fear that, imder these influences,
religion and the world often shake hands ? Is
there not a secret understanding that the
ministry, while it condemns sin in the mass,
must touch gently the prejudices, wrongs, and
abuses which the community has taken under
its wing? Is not preaching often disarmed
by this silent, almost unconscious, concession
to the world ? Whether a ministry sustained
as it now is can be morally free, is a problem
yet to be* solved. If not, the minister must
now, as of old, leave all for Christ, looking
solely for aid to those, however few or poor,
who share his own deep interest in the
Christian cause. Better earn your bread
with the sweat of your brow, than part with
moral freedom.

It is natural that you should desire to win
the affection of your people ; but beware lest
this interfere with moral courage. There is
always danger to dignity and force of cha-
racter in aiming to win the hearts of others.
Dear as affection is, we must be able to
renounce it, to live without sympathy, to
forfeit this man's confidence and that man's
friendship by speaking truth. I exhort you
to prize respect more than affection. Respect,
gradually won by faithfulness to principle, is
more unwavering than personal attachment,
and secures more intelligent attention to
preaching. We are indeed told that truth
IS never so effectual as from the lips of him
whom we love. But it is to be desired that
truth should be received for its own sake, that
it should have its root in the hearer's reason
and conscience, and not in the partiality of
friendship. I wish for you the love of this
congregation ; but still more that they may
reverence you as ever ready to sacrifice human
love and honour to principle and truth.

Hitherto I have guarded you against selfish
fear. There is a more refined fear, to which
ingenuous minds are liable. I refer to the
apprehension which springs from a conscious-
ness of inferiority and inability. This often


disheartens the minister, subdues his voice,
tames his countenance, dims the eye, throws
an air of constraint over his form and
motions, locks up his soul, suffering no
senstbiUty to gush out, no quickening com-
munication to be established between his own
and other souls. To defend yourself from
this fear, impress yourself deeply with the
divine original and the infinite dignity of the
religion you are to preach. You will indeed
often stand before your superiors in age and
acquisitions. But do not fear. Remember
that you are preaching a religion, in the
presence of which all human wisdom ought
to be humble, and that you are teaching a
virtue which ought to strike a conviction of
deep deficiency into the most improved, and
by which the most gifted and powerful are
soon to be judged. In the contemplation of
the majesty of Christian truth, of the work
which it is appointed to accomplish, and of
the omnipotence by which it is sustained,
you should forget yourself; you should forget
the world's ephemeral dignities, and speak
with the native unaffected authority of a
witness to immortal verities, of a messenger
of the Most High.

I am aware that what has been said to
encourage a spirit of fearlessness and inde-
pendence is liable to abuse. There are those
who confound moral courage with defiance of
established opinion, and Christian indepen-
dence with an overweening fondness for their
own conceits. I trust to your humility and
soundness of mind for a sober construction
of my counsels. I trust you will feel such a
respect for past times, and for the maxims
and institutions of the society to which you
belong, as will induce you to weigh cautiously
and with self-distrust whatever peculiar views
spring up in your mind. You are too wise to
bolt from the beaten path, in order to prove
that you do not tamely follow others' steps ;
too wise to be lawless, that you may escape
the reproach of servility. The authority of
usage is a wholesome restraint on the freaks,
follies, and rash experiments of youth and
inexperience. But usage must not restrain
the intellect and heart. Whilst deferring to
the rules which society has settled, you must
still act from your own convictions. You
must stand out as an individual, and not be
melted in the common mass. Whilst you
honour antiquity, you must remember that
the past has not done and could not do the
work of the present ; that in religion, as in
all things, progress is the law and happiness
of the race ; that our own time has its task,
and has wants which the provisions of earlier
times cannot satisfy. Remember, too, that
each man has his own way of working, and
can work powerfully in no other, and do not
anxiously and timidly model yourself after

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those whom you admire. To escape the sin
of presumption, do not be mechanical. To
escape eccentricity, do not shut your eyes on
what is peculiar in your lot, and fear to meet
it by peculiar efforts. The minister too often
speaks feebly, because his voice is only the
echo of echoes, because he dares not trust to
the inspirations of his own soul. To conclude
this head,— be humble, be modest, but be
not weak. Fear God and not man. Respect
your deliberately consulted conscience. This
energy of spirit will give a greater power to
your ministry than all the calculations of
selfish prudence or all the compromises of
selfish fear.

My Brother, one exhortation more. Feel
the greatness of your office. Let not its
humble exterior, or the opinion of the world,
or its frequent inefficacy, hide from vou its
unspeakable dignity. Regard it as the highest
human vocation, as greater than thrones, or
any other distinctions which relate merely to
the present life. The noblest work on earth,
or in heaven, is to act on the soul ; to inspire
it with wisdom smd magnanimity, with reve-
rence for God, and love towards man. This
is the highest function of sages and inspired
poets, and also of statesmen worthy of the
name, who comprehend that a nation's great-
ness is to be laid in its soul. Glory in your
office. Feel that it associates you with the
elect of past ages, with Jesus Christ, and
apostles, and confessors, and martyrs, and
refonners ; with all who have toiled and
suffered to raise men to intelligence and
moral greatness ; and let the consciousness of
this spiritual brotherhood fortify you for like
suffering and toil. Glory in your office.
You delight in poetry and the fine arts; but
remember that the divinest art is that which
studies and creates the beauty, not of out-
ward form, but of immortal virtue; which
creates not statues and pictures, but holy and
disinterested men; which awakens the god-
like in the breast of our brother. No poem
is so glorious as a Christian life; and he
who incites a fellow-creature to this produces
a work which will outlast all other works of
the mind. Glory in your office, especially,
as instituted to carry forward the human soul
to wider and higher action than it has yet
attained. Other men are labouring with
instruments, the power of which can be
measured ; but who can measure the energy
which resides in Christian truth, or the spi-
ritual life and elevation which this truth,
rightly administered, may commimicate ?
Regard your office as meant not to per-
petuate what exists, but to introduce a higher
condition of the church and the world.
Christ was eminently the Reformer; and
Reform is the spirit of the ministry. With-
out this spirit, our churches are painted

sepulchres, and the preaching in them but
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. Com-
prehend the greatness of your spiritual func-
tion; You are entrusted with a truth that is
to create a new heaven and a new earth, to
prostrate the abuses and corruptions of ages,
to unite men by new ties to God and to one
another, to revive the Divine Image In the
human soul. Keep your mind in harmony
with this great end. Let not pleasures, cares»
honours, common example, or opinion, or
any worldly interest, sever you from it.
Cherish a hving faith in a higher c^ration
of Christianity than is yet seen in any com-
munity or any church. This faith is far from
being imiversal, and for want of it the ministry
is weak. But is there no ground for it ? Is
it an iUiision ? I know not a weightier ques-
tion for a minister to answer. Other points
of controversy will solicit your attention.
But the greatest question which you have to
determine is. Whether Christianity has done
its work and spent its force, or whether a
more regenerating manifestation of troth is
not to be hoped ? Whether a new application
of the Christian law to priN-ate and public life
is not to be longed for, and prayed for, and
confidently expected ? Whether Ch|istendom
is not to wear another aspect ? Whether the
idea of perfection, of disinterested virtue,
which shone forth in the character of Jesus,
is not to possess more livingly the human
soul, and to be more and more realised in
human life? Your answer to tWs quesrion
will decide very much whether your ministry
shall be a mechanical round, a name, a sleep,
or be fraught with life and power. In an-
swering it, do not consult with flesh and
blood, but listen to the prophetic words of
Jesus Christ ; listen to the aspirations of your
own soul ; listen to that deep discontent with
the present forms of Christianity which is
spreading in the community, which breaks
out in murmurs, now of scorn, now of grief,
and which hungers and thirsts for a new
coming of the kingdom of God.

My Brother, much might be added, but I
hasten to the close of this unusually pro-
tracted service. We wish you prosperity.
May you establish yourself in the hearts of
this people I May you find a lasting home in
this beautiful part of our land ! Here may
you hve in peace, here grow old in honour,
here close your eyes amid the tears of a
grateful people ! This we hope; and we have
ground of hope in the spirit of the congre-
gation to which you are to minbter. But we
cannot speak of your prospects as sure. Yoa
live in a trying day. The spirit of change
which characterizes our times has penetrated
the church, and shaken the old stability of the
ministry. In no profession are men exposed
to greater changes than in oofS. Prepste

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OF REV. y. S. D WIGHT. 411

yourself for the worst, while you hope for the purpose, an iron strength of jjrinciple, a

best. Cherish, as among the first vfrtues of loftiness of sentiment, which will disarm

Ciir oflBce, a firm, manly, self-denying spirit, outward changes and give power to your

t not the comforts of life grow into your ministry, whether in a prosperous or adverse

soul. Be simple in your habits, in food, rai- lot. "Be strong in the Ix)rd, and in the

men t, pleasures. Be frugal, that you may be power of his might." "Be thou faithful

just, may "have to give to him that needeth," unto death, and He shall give thee a crown

and may be fitted to sustain privations with of life."
dignity. Build up in yourself an energy of




Part I. of his mind, and his reverence for historical
The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte by Sir truth, have effectually preserved him from
Walter Scott has been anticipated with an abusing the great power conferred on him
eagerness proportioned to the unrivalled by his talents over public opinion. We
powers of the author, and to the wonderful think that his laudable fear of wronging the
endowments and fortunes of the hero. That enemy of his country, joined to an admira-
the general expectation has been satisfied, we tion of the dazzling qualities of Napoleon,
cannot affirm. But few will deny that the has led him to soften unduly the crimes of
writer has given us a monument of his great his hero, and to give more favourable impres-
talents. The rapidity with which such a sions than truth will warrant.
work has been thrown off astonishes us. We But enough of the author, who needs not
think, howe\'er, that the author owed to him- our praise, and can suffer little by our censure,
self, and to the public, a more deliberate exe- Our concern is with his subject. A just esti-
cution of this important undertaking. He mate of the late Emperor of France seems
should either have abandoned it. or have to us important. That extraordinary man,
bestowed on it the long and patient labour having operated on the world with unpre-
which it required. The marks of negligence cedcnted power during his life, is now influ-
and haste, which are spread through the encing it by his character. Thdt character,
work, are serious blemishes, and, to more we apprehend, is not viewed as it should he.
fastidious readers, inexpiable defects. It The kind of admiration which it inspires, even
wants compression and selection through- in free countries, is a bad omen. The greatest
out. Many passages are encumbered with crime against society, that of spoiling it of its
verbiage. Many thoughts are weakened by rights and loading it with chains, still fails to
useless expansion and worse than useless move that deep abhorrence which is its due ;
repetition. Comparisons are accumulated to and which, if really felt, would fix on the
excess, and, whilst many are exquisite, perhaps usurper a brand of indelible infamy. Re-
as many are trite and unworthy of history, garding freedom as the chief interest of human
The remarks are generally just, but obvious, nature, as essential to its intellectual, moral.
We state these defects plainly, that we may and religious progress, we look on men who
express the more freely our admiration of the have signalized themselves by their hostility
talents which have executed so rapidly a work to it with an indignation at once stem and
so extensive and various, so rich in informa- sorrowful, which no glare of successful war,
tion, so fresh and vivid in description, and and no admiration of the crowd, can induce
furnishing such abundant specimens of a free, us to suppress. We mean, then, to speak
graceful, and vigorous style. freely of Napoleon. But, if we know our-
The work has the great merit of impar- selves, we could on no account utter one un-
tialily. It is probably inaccurate in many of just reproach. We speak the more freely,
its details, but singularly free from prejudice because conscious of exemption from every
and passion. Not a few, who considered feeling like animosity. We war not with the
that the author was both a Briton and a dead. We would resist only what we deem
friend of the principles and policy of Pitt, the pernicious influence of the dead. We
were expecting from his pen a discoloured would devote ourselves to the cause of free-
delineation of the implacable foe of England dom and humanity, a cause perpetually be-
and of that great minister. But the rectitude trayed by the admiration lavished on pros-

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perous crime and all-grasping ambition. Our
great topic will be the Character of Napoleon ;
and with this we shall naturally intersperse

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 89 of 169)