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and government to work upon the soul, and develop its spiritual nature; and when, by God's Holy Spirit, the heart is aroused and excited to that degree which makes it susceptible of feeling and understanding such spiritual truths, and it yields itself to be imbued by them, and controlled by them, it has been born again. It has become the new child of the Spirit of the Word.
“Now, all preaching is to be judged by its relation to this end. That discourse which discloses to the human soul the real character of God, and the essential relations which He sustains to men, so that the thoughts do not rest upon the vehicle, but upon the thing itself—the very truth—is preaching.
“That discourse which leaves the thoughts upon the sermon itself, not upon the truth which it seeks to convey, is a secular lecture, no matter whether it be on the subject of the Trinity, of Sovereignty, of Heaven, or any other sacred theme. An elaborate sermon, stuffed full of scholastic learning, tied and bound by nice qualifications and balancings, or split up and fringed with subtle definitions and fine distinctions, whether it be upon
the decrees, upon human agency and responsibility, or upon any other solemn topic, is a mere philosophical lecture, unfit for the pulpit or the Sabbath.
“A sermon that is dry, cold, dull, soporific, is a pulpit monster, and is just as great a violation of the sanctity of the pulpit as the other absurd extreme of profane levity. Men may hide or forsake God's living truth by the way of stupid dulness, just as much as by pert imagination. A solemn nothing is just as wicked as a witty nothing. Men confound earnestness with solemnity. A man may be eagerly earnest, and may not be very solemn. They may also be awfully solemn, without a particle of earnestness. But solemnity has a reputation. A man may be a repeater of endless distinctions, a lecturer in the pulpit of mere philosophical niceties, or he may be a repeater of stale truisms; he may smother living truths by conventional forms and phrases, and if he put on a very solemn face, use a very solemn tone, employ very solemn gestures, and roll along his vamped-up sermon with professional solemnity above an audience of sound men ; men at least soundly asleep-that will pass for decorous handling of God's truth. The old pharisaism is not dead yet. The difference between Christ and His contemporary teachers was, that He spake life-truths in life-forms, with the power of His own life in their utterance. The rabbis spake old orthodoxy, dead as a mummy; but they spake it very reverendly. They might not do any good, but they never violated professional propriety. Nobody lived; everybody died about them. But, then, their faces were sober, their robes exact, their manner mostly of the temple and the altar. They never forgot how to look, nor how to speak gutteral solemnities, nor how to maintain professional dignity. They forgot nothing except living truths and living souls. And fifty years of ministration without any fruit in true godliness gave them no pain. It was charged to the account of Divine Sovereignty.
“Whoever hides the truth by embellishment of words, by a vain exhibition of wit or fancy, by opaque learning, by the impenetrable thickets of nice distinctions, by stupidity and lifelessness, by inane solemnity and sanctimonious conventionalism, is a desecrator of the pulpit and a breaker of the Sabbath day. Stupidity hides the truth just as fatally as liberty. Consecrated dulness is no better than flippant folly. If a window fails to let the light through; it makes little difference whether the obscuration comes from the web of a big, lazy spider, or from the nimble weavings of a hundred pert little spiders.
“God's truth really, earnestly, pungently spoken, for a direct and practical purpose, with distinct results constantly following, that is preaching, no matter what are the particular methods of speech. Doubtless some are better than others. But every sincere and truthful man must use that way by which God has enabled him to achieve success; some by solid statements; some by inexorable reasonings ; some by illustration and fancy; some by facts and storiesjust as God has given power to each one. But the test is the same in the highest and the lowest. Fruit must follow. The truth of God must shine through the human instrument and evince its divinity by signs following—the awakening
of the conscience, conviction of sin, conversion to God, and a life redeemed from selfishness, and set aglow with Christian goodness and benevolence.
“Nothing can more sharply exhibit the miserable imbecility which has come upon us, than the inability of men to perceive the difference between preaching 'politics,' social reform,' &c., and preaching God's truth in such a way that it shall sit in judgment upon these things, and every
other deed of men, to try them, to explore and analyse them, and to set them forth, as upon the background of eternity, in their moral character, and in their relations to man's duty and God's requirements.
“Shall the whole army of human deeds go roaring along the public thoroughfares, and Christian men be whelmed in the general rush, and no man be found to speak the real moral nature of human conduct? Is the pulpit too holy, and the Sabbath too sacred, to bring individual courses and developments of society to the bar of God's Word for trial ? Those who think so, and are crying out about the desecration of the pulpit with secular themes, are the lineal descendents of those Jews who thought the Sabbath so sacred that our Saviour desecrated it by healing the withered hand. Would to God that the Saviour would visit His Church, and heal withered hearts !"
The above powerful and eloquent letter contains Mr. Beecher's profound conviction as to the style of preaching required by the times, and gives us a notion of his own method of handling and applying divine truth. Whenever, therefore, we find him opposing and making game of theology, let us bear in mind that his objection lies not against theology in itself considered, but againt the introduction of it into the pulpit. Let ministers study the science of theology as extensively and as profoundly as ever they can; let them wade knee-deep and neck-deep along the shore of the mighty ocean of theological lore ; let them theological treatises by the hundred, and split as many theological hairs as they can find, but let them beware of bringing philosophical niceties into the sacred pulpit. Generally speaking, busy men care absolutely nothing about creeds and confessions; but they are yearning with unutterable longing for some message of sympathy and condolence from the skies. Creeds are admirable, confessions are profitable in their place; but it would involve a horrible mockery of human sin and misery, and be the very height of absurdity to be everlastingly hugging and embracing them in the presence of troubled, care-worn, sin-burdened, tempest-tossed, and severely tempted human beings. Scientific theology is no food for human souls.
Mr. Beecher has exerted a very perceptible influence upon the American pulpit. Within the last twenty-five years, dry, dull, purely doctrinal preaching has gone entirely out of the fashion. Here and there a doctrine-loving preacher may still be seen, but he is looked upon as a fossil, as a mere piece of curiosity, almost as one of the seven 'wonders, and his followers are few and far between. There is more practical earnestness, there is a larger measure of living humanity, there is more directness of aim, there is a far greater singleness of purpose to be observed in the preaching of to-day than in that of any former period since the time of the Apostles; and it must be confessed that the Plymouth Pulpit has done much towards the bringing about of such a pleasant change. What would our Puritan Fathers say were they to visit our modern churches and listen to our modern preaching? What would they think of the mighty changes and revolutions which have been wrought since they left the earth for the mansions above? Why, they would fall down upon their knees and glorify God for His wonderful goodness to the children of men ; for they, too, have undergone glorious changes since they were here below administering to those under their charge tough doses of theological truth, covered with a thick coating of technical terms. Jonathan Edwards was a grand preacher in his day; but even he would readily acknowledge that his style of preaching was far inferior to the style that obtains in the majority of our pulpits now. While all his sermons were very excellent in composition, and very searching in application, there was in them an element of interminable speculation which interfered seriously with their simplicity and directness. He is justly regarded as the greatest metaphysician America has ever produced, and he was also in many respects the greatest preacher of his age; but in him the speculative, the metaphysical, and the logical predominate throughout. His was a gigantic intellect, and it stamped itself indelibly upon all his productions. What he was on a large scale, others were on a small one. But, to-day, a metaphysical, speculative preacher can scarcely be found in the whole of the United States. Most ministers there now are aiming to be moral forces to move men in the direction of a higher, nobler manhood. They are fishers of men. Their whole business is to arouse, inspire, exalt, and ennoble their hearers, and thereby prepare them for the solemn warfare of life. In this realm Mr. Beecher is indeed a prince, and has a large and glorious following, not in America alone, but in Great Britain as well.
But notwithstanding the fact that he is intensely practical and direct in his aim, and does not attempt to systematise his ideas, yet his sermons teem with living, burning thoughts. He is a profound thinker. He thinks not in the direction of any particular system, but of life. His thoughts are not so many columns to support a theological structure, but glowing sparks from the furnace of his heart, wherewith he seeks to kindle the flame of disinterestedness and nobility in the hearts of those who are under his charge. He does not place them in their respective positions in a creed, but makes them to fit into the various exigencies and experiences of everyday life. His theology is a theology of the heart, not so much of the head. He deals exclusively with living facts, and expounds them as circumstances demand.
He belongs to none of the existing schools of thought. He stands alone. He is not in thorough harmony with any branch of orthodoxy; and yet we dare not class him with the free-thinkers. He is not an original investigator of truth, and yet he thinks in unison with no one. He is a theological phenomenon. He is strong, intense, deep, fiery ; but he does not run in any of the current ruts, nor does he open a new rut himself. He is broad, comprehensive, many-sided, full, but not up to any of the standards of measure commonly used in the world. He resembles, in some respects, many of the giants of the past, such as