On the Duties of the Publick Ministry
BROTHER [OR BRETHREN,]
WHEN I began the Commentaries on the Questions in the Ordination Services, my design was limited to them; but, while engaged in the work, I perceived the imperfection with which it would be finished, in reference to the subjects now to follow; unless they should be discussed more largely, than was exacted by the points on which the questions had respectively their bearings. In consideration of this, I determined to extend the design; and to make a further demand on the attention of candidates; although aware, that while there will be some matters of duty, there will be others, rather of opinion or of taste. If the remarks which are to follow, should in any measure give a proper direction to your own reflections; and much more, if they should throw any light on the right discharge of the duties to be spoken of; there will be so far an accomplishment of the object which the Church contemplated; to be attended to in the private examination of every candidate for the priesthood.
THE duties to be spoken of may be arranged under the three heads:--
1. Of Preaching;
2. Of Officiating in the ordinary Service of the Church; and,
3. Of Administering in the Offices.
Perhaps there may be required a reason, for the giving of the first place to the exercise of preaching: since it is a remark frequently in the mouths of consistent members of our communion, that the chief design of holding religious assemblies, should be the engaging in the exercises of worship. The sentiment is considered as correct: but before it Can apply, there must be presumed a constituted religious body. When our Lord, after his resurrection, delivered to his disciples the commission--"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature;" there were not formed any churches, in the different countries afterwards converted to the faith. Even at the present day, a minister may be under circumstances, which call on him to open the great truths of the Christian Revelation; to the doing of which, there is no necessity of his being in a pulpit, and furnished with other accompaniments of an orderly administering in a congregation; while yet, neither is there in the act any offence against, the prescribed order of the Church. In short, it is wished to hold up the idea, that there is no time and no place, in which a clergyman may not perceive an obligation laid on him, to discourse in such a manner as falls under the name of preaching. This, indeed, may be said of prayer also; yet not of such prayer as implies his being therein the leader of an organized Christian congregation. In the estimation of some persons, it is the commendation of a clergyman, that with his official habiliments. he lays aside his official character. There is no design, entertained of taking the contrary extreme, in recommending what would render that character the less useful, by the being obtrusive; and even degrade it to the absurdity of "casting pearls before swine." But a protest is here entered against the far worse evil, of a clergyman's so forgetting of his vocation, as to tempt himself to levity, or to justify indecorum towards him, or even to bar the possibility of giving a religious turn to conversation. And as for the description of people, who delight in severing between the clerical and the ordinary character; if ever, in the changes of life, they should have a call for religious counsel, the companion of their hours of gayety is the last they would think of resorting to for the benefit.
What is to be said on the subject of preaching, may be comprehended under the two heads of instruction and persuasion.
The word "instruction," is here taken in a comprehensive sense; as signifying what has a tendency to inform or to convince; although, perhaps, presenting nothing new to the understandings of those for whom it is designed. On religious subjects, it is difficult to find out, for persons habitually attendant in the house of God, either general arguments or appropriate remarks, which shall be entirely new to them. Besides, it may be affirmed of any preacher, with whom the doing so is a favourite object, that he will be less likely to feed them with the solid and wholesome food of evangelical instruction, than with the frothy garnish of some empty conceits; or perhaps with the deadly poison of some dangerous errors. Yet, let it not be imagined, that, independently on novelty, the preacher has no field before him for the exercise of his own ingenuity, and for the gratifying of the intellectual faculties of his auditory. There will always be room for this, in the perspicuity of his statements; in the pertinency of his arguments; and in the placing of ordinary truths in such points of view, as are the best calculated to open the minds of a congregation to the interest which they have in them. Where these are the objects aimed at by the speaker, the hearers are not apt to become indifferent, in proportion to the information before possessed by them of the subject. Indeed, the contrary has been the fact; which may be made the more probable, by a reference to any of those secular professions, which pre-eminently call for intellectual cultivation. For instance, in listening to an argument in law, when the same is handled judiciously, it is not the less welcome to the ear of a proficient, from the circumstance that he had frequently made the point in question the object of his studies: or rather, he will listen the more attentively to the discussion of it. Now, although the subjects of the pulpit are not like those of the bar, within the comprehension of a few only; yet the former are not, on that account, the less connected with relations and with consequences remote from ordinary observation; except as occasionally brought before the mind, by some of those channels of instruction, of which the principal is that of the pulpit. So far as observation has extended, it goes to certify, that attention is always excited by the people's early making of the discovery, that the prominent property of the sermon is its being an appeal to their understanding, on some subject in which they conceive themselves to have an interest. It may be hoped, that at least with a great proportion of the congregation, the cause of this is a wish to be instructed of confirmed in some truth, or in some duty of religion. And further, it is not unreasonable to conceive, that this may be the ease even of those, who, in any other place than a church, are indifferent to such discussions. The fact stated may in some measure be accounted for, by their being thus recognised as reasonable creatures. Still, however unsuitable a place the pulpit for adulation, or for encouraging complacency in self; yet the respect, here contemplated, is very reasonable, and should be paid, not on this account only, but with a view to the high ends to which all preaching should be directed.
From these considerations, it may he laid down as an invariable rule, not only that a prominent property of preaching should be its being addressed to the understanding; but that its being so should be easily, and in the beginning, discernible by the hearers. There has been often given the advice, that the preacher open with some striking remark, in order to awaken the attention. The ad vice is not here faulted, but indeed approved of. We may however fear, that it has been often misunderstood; and that many a preacher, aiming to put the lesson in practice, has set off with mere declamation; and having arrived at his division, has to descend so low from the high tone set off in, as that what follows becomes insipid. Let there then, when circumstances permit, be an introductory remark, as striking as the subject can suggest, and as it can be made by the ability of the speaker. But if none such can be found, without there being more show than substance, or without defrauding the body of the discourse of the matter belonging to it, let the introduction be as plain as possible; or let there be nothing which can be strictly so called, in preference to the fabricating of an exordium, approaching too near to the character of sound without sense.
Perhaps, in regard to what has been recommended of addressing the understanding principally; there may be demanded the occasional exception of the preacher's having taken a subject, that admits of an address to the affections, from the beginning to the end of the discourse. But we may reject such an exception, even when the subject is in the hands of u person who can execute the design with considerable judgment. This is a point on which we must be supposed to speak partly from our respective feelings. But although these are not precisely the same in all, the difference may be thought to exist, not in substance, but in degree. Even when a preacher, whose character is approved of, and whose talents are respected, manifests the design here questioned, of making the whole an address to the affections, and even when the office, thus undertaken, is conducted without offence to the understanding, and with the advantage of no small display of eloquence, it will be found to leave the mind unaffected: and the like apathy may be observed in a congregation generally. In short, there seems to apply the adage, "forewarned, forearmed." The hearer perceives the design of the speaker, and puts himself in a posture of defence. It is otherwise, when the eloquence seems that of the argument; and not of the person, through whose mouth it comes.
But, if even what is here pointed out, and only occasionally practised, is an evasion of a reasonable and important maxim, how much more so is that kind of preaching, in which the principal property is declamation; the substance of sacred subjects evaporating in verbiage, and perhaps in forced figures, and far-fetched conceits, mistaken for eloquence! The early part of life being especially in danger of this absurd association of vanity and insufficiency, it is an additional reason for the bestowing of endeavours, to be acquainted with the principles of eloquence. Even if they should not excite the genius of the student to any considerable attainments in that line, they will at least prevent his being captivated by that false varnish which, however it may impose on ignorant and fanciful persons, will be despised by the judicious scholar, and give no satisfaction to the serious Christian.
Different from this fault, but alike foreign to sound reasoning, is a dogmatical delivery of the sentiments of the preacher, in a manner which seems to imply, that they are to be received on the ground of his authority. There should be carefully avoided every thing of this sort, which is rather calculated to excite in the minds of the hearers, doubts of the most obvious truths, than to force on them the belief of others, which, however demonstrable, are supposed to admit of specious contradiction, in the very circumstance of their being made subjects of discussion. Besides, that this assumption of dictatorial authority is always offensive to the understandings of mankind; it is a pity to endanger the prostrating of the reverence due to the ministerial character, whatever this may be, by arrogating to it more than it can rightfully claim; especially at a time when there must be perceived a much more popular tendency to the extreme of lowering the character, than to another extreme prevalent in former ages, of an immoderate exaltation of it. In other departments of publick discussion; as at the bar, and in every description of representative assembly; the speaker is kept within bounds in this particular, by the danger of leaving unguarded parts of his argument, in which he will be sure to be assailed by his opponents. In the pulpit, the sanctity of the place should produce the same caution, making a preacher as much afraid to hazard any untenable position, or to utter the most demonstrable positions without their proofs, as if he were sure that some person would rise up in contradiction of his discourse. And he ought to remember, that, however the decorum of the occasion may prevent this, the mind will be the more captious, under the advantage ungenerously taken, and because of the silence imposed on the tongue. The advice here given ought especially to be attended to, in any censures passed on infidelity. All railing, and all insufficient reasoning, gives the infidel an advantage, of which he will not fail to avail himself. And even in the case of a wavering of partially informed Christian, when he has heard from the pulpit what he subsequently finds to be unsustainable, and especially if it be misrepresentation of opposite opinion, the result is at least thrown into the scale of the very error which the preacher had intended to oppose.
In insisting on the prominent property of addresses to the understanding, there is not recommended a preacher's entertaining of his audience with metaphysical discussions, or with matters taken from any of the various branches of scientific erudition. Even this, however, is to be understood with the exception of a very short reference, when it may serve to explain the purely religious matter in hand. And the exception is made, principally because of the necessity sometimes lying on the preacher, of availing himself of the original languages of Scripture, or of some custom of the ages in which it was indited. Even of this species of literature, he should be sparing; both because his habitual topicks of popular edification ought not to lean too much to the occasions of such criticism; and because of the danger of subjecting himself to the charge of an ostentatious display of learning. Yet, that there may sometimes be the call for if, here admitted, must be evident from the course of the Divine dispensations, which has subjected us to the necessity of resorting to such helps, for the understanding of the books of Revelation. With this exception, however, an intrusion on an audience with discussions, the sources of which are not accessible to the greater number of them, must be, to say the least, a wasting of the opportunity of bringing before them what might be interesting and instructive. There is still less to be said for any of those recondite reasonings, in which the preacher is not only not likely to be followed by the generality of his hearers; but the points to be established are not of such a nature as to come directly home to their everlasting interests; however they may have a remote relation to them, not easily to be discerned by an ordinary understanding. In favour of the exercise of ingenuity in such a sphere, and to the exhibition of learning also, a plea is sometimes made, in consideration of superior advantages possessed by some auditories, in point of literary information. To give even a specious appearance to the plea, there ought to be an auditory made up of scientific characters. Even in such a case, which nothing but some extraordinary circumstance can give occasion to, the hearers may be supposed content, and, if not so, they ought to be content, however superior to the commonality in the furniture of their understandings, to be now brought to, a level with them, in regard to their common frailties, their common duties, and their common hopes. But before an assembly, in which there is at least a considerable proportion of people possessed of no more than an ordinary measure of information, to accommodate the discourse merely to select characters, who have obtained a higher grade of it, is one of the most decisive proofs which a preacher can give, of his being alien in spirit from the Divine Founder of the ministry; who stamped on the institution what was to be a property of it at all times, when he said--"To the poor the Gospel is preached." These at all events, and, perhaps, besides these, many more will be entirely uninterested in the kind of preaching, against which there is here put in a caution. Even as to those for whom it is designed exclusively, it must be evident, that the object was rather their amusement than their edification. And the probability is, that they will disapprove of the compliment tendered to them, at the expense of those who are thus defrauded of their share of what the place and the occasion call for.
It falls in with this part of the subject to remark, that in proportion to the importance of addressing the understanding, is that of the perspicuity of what is thus addressed to it, and of clothing it in language which shall also be as perspicuous as possible. By this is not meant that the argument of the sermon should be as naked as the demonstration of a mathematical proposition: Although, if man were so constituted, as that his affections were invariably to follow the convictions of his understanding, there could not be too near a resemblance between the subjects. But although information is here the subject, there is another purpose of preaching--that of persuasion: And, as was intimated, this is the oftenest endeavoured with effect, when it is not in the persuasive form; but a truth is brought before the mind, and seen in those of its relations, which clothe it with a persuasion of its own. Now this is sometimes accomplished by incidental remarks, and even by an happy choice of language. It may, however, safely be affirmed, that all amplification, and even every word which has no tendency to what has been stated, nor yet to make the intended truth the more clear to the understanding, may advantageously be omitted. For all superfluity, either in sentiment or in diction, is not only what may be spared, but is hostile to the object of the preacher, by making it the less distinct to the minds of the hearers. So that if the superfluity here complained of should even be combined with argument, applying directly to the purpose; yet the substance of the one is lost in the emptiness of the other. It would be a going beyond the proper limits of this address, to prescribe rules for the attainment of perspicuity. There is, however, one maxim strictly within these limits, and it is pre-eminent over every other--that of never undertaking to explain, or to prove, without a distinct perception of the subject, together with the appropriate arguments and elucidations. Perhaps perspicuity is never wanting, when the writer or the speaker perfectly understands his subject; unless, indeed, he writes or speaks hastily, and without due care.
There has been left much unsaid, which might have been brought forward profitably, on the subject of instruction. But it is time to go on to the other point--that of persuasion: taking the word in the enlarged sense, comprehensive of whatever comes under the head of motive. According to this, a minister will be persuasive, even when, with effect, he sets the judgments of God before the consciences of his hearers. This is a latitude of meaning, which St. Paul implied when he said--"Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men."
We should carefully distinguish evangelical persuasion from that sort of preaching which is called an addressing of the passions. Some clergymen have aimed at this in such a way, as that the sensibilities intended to be excited have had no more a reference to devout affection, than if the hearers had been attending to a novel or to a play. Without any thing of this sort, the word of God may be so ministered, as to come home to the hearts of the people, and to produce in them a sense of sin, or holy resolution as to any of the various duties which it can respect. Ambition to excel in the other way, never fails to draw down the disapprobation of all well-informed and judicious persons. Some affect to be moved by it, lest their reputation for sensibility should suffer. And if there should be some, from whom the tears flow spontaneously, there is little probability, that the effect will be either the correcting of any fault, or the improving of any grace. Most of the descriptions which are heard of death-bed scenes, and of humanity under suffering, become exceedingly disgusting, on the principle here stated. It is not intended to deny, that such descriptions are nearly allied, and may be made subservient to duties, which it is within the province of the preacher to inculcate. But the complaint is, that the duties are too much lost sight of, in the labours to excite sympathy. And the matter to be inculcated is, that the excitement of this, without reference to a religious end, is as much out of the preacher's province, as would be his acting of a fictitious character on a stage.
There would be a great mistake in supposing, that argument and persuasion are so distinct, as not to be capable of combining in the same branches, and even in the same sentences of a discourse. Far from this, on an examination of some of the finest passages of any writer, celebrated for the talent of persuasion, it will be found, that the aim is the most effectually accomplished, when the conviction of the understanding would appear to be the only object. But it happens, that in his efforts for this, his sentiments take such a dress, as that while they compel an assent of the understanding, they excite a glow also of the affections. This might be illustrated in passages from eminent writers, both sacred and profane. Still, there are certain places in a sermon, in which a preacher especially sees opportunities of bringing home his truths to the consciences of his hearers; and, through that medium, of exciting their hatred of what is evil, and their love and desire of what is good. Sometimes this is best done at the winding up of the different heads: which has the advantage of giving an agreeable variety to the discourse. In other instances it is more naturally reserved to a concluding application. In this part of the discourse, there are opposite errors to be avoided. One of them, and what is to be found in writers of no mean fame, is the summing up of what had gone before, in inferences so naked, that they are like the scholia affixed by geometricians to their demonstrations. The other, is the going over the whole ground, with a laboured delineation of whatever of motive can be drawn out of the subject? to induce compliance with the duties comprehended in it. A reluctant hearer immediately puts himself into the posture of defence, against an attack so formal and undisguised; while a person more favourably disposed, anticipating the whole circle of sentiment to come--this being the part of the discourse, in which the least informed can commonly perceive the resulting uses--acquiesces in a cold approbation of them; but is not the more persuaded by what is brought before him on the occasion. These alternate dangers are the best avoided, by the preacher's seizing of a few leading ideas, such as seem to him the most impressive; and his taking in of no more of the preceding discourse than will arrange easily under those ideas, and contribute to their strength. Brevity is a circumstance essential to the effect.
It must be obvious, that all here said relates rather to the avoiding of fault, than to the attainment of excellence. The laying down of particular rules for this seems forbidden by the wonderful variety in the workings of the human heart; and the no less variety of circumstances, on which the excitement of its affections must depend. However, some general directions shall be attempted.
One is, always to choose a subject obviously and eminently interesting. Importance, indeed, may be said to belong to every truth and every duty of religion; but it is in different degrees. Besides, the remark does not relate to a subject, merely as it is in itself: which may be in the highest degree important, because of its relation to the whole system; and yet not such, as that human interest is so obviously discernible in it, as in some others. A preacher is the more inexcusable, when, in the choice of a subject, he overlooks the attribute here mentioned; because of the advantage which he possesses in this respect, over publick speakers in other departments. At the bar, and in a deliberating assembly, the subject is dictated by circumstances, over which the speaker has no control; but in the pulpit, and considering the wide range of subjects closely connected with the everlasting interests of the hearers, it would seem, that nothing can betray into a choice of one of minor consequence; except either a weak judgment of the person, or the paltry ambition of showing himself ingenious, with little concern how far the matter may 'tend to religious culture.
Another direction, is for the preacher to feel his own interest in the subject chosen. And this is a consideration, which weighs much in favour of an attentive contemplation of every subject, on which he undertakes to prepare himself for the pulpit. It may easily be conceived, indeed, from the difference of susceptibility at different times, that a man, undertaking a subject without much thought, and yet under a conviction of its truth and of its importance, may find his mind not easily subjected to the correspondent feelings. But this can hardly happen--the subject being still supposed important in itself--if he submit it to the exercise of the mind, which we call study--if he revolve it over and over--if he be solicitous to adopt such an arrangement, as is the most likely to render it intelligible--convincing--impressive: And if, to all this, he add a looking up to Divine Grace; not for immediate inspiration, which he has no right to expect; but for an influence, known only in its effects, giving an holy direction to the mind, and warding off the undue influence, which might have been the result of human frailty. There can hardly be supposed such an habitual discipline as this, in the work of pulpit preparation, without its exciting of some measure of sensibility; which, produced by such means, is certainly no weak ground on which to hope, through the Divine Grace spoken of, for a similar sensibility in others. Another direction, is for the preacher to have a view, not merely to the soundness of the materials which he brings together, but to their being of such a description, and exhibited in such a form, as shall be the most likely to command an inward testimony on the part of those for whose edification they are designed. Let it be supposed, that from pure motives of benevolence, we were addressing a man on some subject, very interesting to his fortune or to his reputation, and that what passes is in, the presence of a near friend of his, and one whose opinion we know to be weighty in his estimation. How careful should we be to conciliate to our cause the interest of such a friend! In urging any argument, how much pleased should we be with the conviction, that it must be agreeable to his sense of things! And how carefully should we wave any consideration, in our own eye correct, but concerning which we might doubt of carrying his consent along with us! Now, exactly such a friend, in the case supposed, is the monitor called Conscience, in the breasts of all our hearers; with the exception perhaps of a few, whose consciences may be seared, and whose cases may be desperate. To a minister who has a conscience of his own, there can be no consideration more powerfully dissuasive from all paltry passions centering in himself, than the evident fact, that they forfeit the influence of this powerful pleader. On the contrary, as it must be through his instrumentality, if the preacher be so happy as to persuade; nothing can be more evident, than that this is a circumstance to be attended to, in the materials presented for the occasion: and this, not only when appeals are made directly to the conscience--which, however, will be done to great advantage, when they arise easily out of the subject--but also in the scope of the sermon generally, and in that of every one of its branches.
The last direction which shall be given, is the preacher's judging favourably of his own discourses; not in proportion to their becoming subjects of praise, but in proportion to their appearing to have made impressions on the minds of the people. Of what passes in the minds of others, we must, of course, be but imperfect judges. Yet, sometimes the carriage, and sometimes the countenance, may show that the good seed has taken at least a temporary possession of the soil. As to mere praise, it is sometimes bestowed in such a manner as shows, that the hearer has had nothing in view, beyond some personal accomplishment of the speaker: or at most, the dress in which his subject was exhibited; without any connexion of it either with information offered to the understanding, or of there being any thing tending to the amendment of the heart. On this point, there ought not to be forgotten, what was referred to in a former commentary, concerning the eloquent bishop of Clermont. When his king said to him, "You always make me dissatisfied with myself," he gave vent to the very feeling, which we ought to endeavour to excite, in a greater or in a less degree, in all our hearers. Of the great mass of them, it must be evident, beyond the danger of contradiction: to the best of them also, it is in a measure applicable; because they have frailties which give cause of humiliation. And even as to the sons and the daughters of despondency, they cannot be made dissatisfied with themselves in any such sense, as shall be inconsistent with their being directed to the highest consolations of the Gospel.
On this point of persuasion, the preacher has a prolifick source of encouragement in the topicks supplied to him by our holy religion. Christianity has been emphatically called a religion of motives. To mention them in this place, would be to disparage them; because the display could not be made to an extent adequate to their importance; without taking up a greater portion of this address than is consistent with a regard to the matters to which it is especially appropriated. It may be proper, however, to remark, that the preacher's topicks of persuasion are of a far higher grade than any at the command of speakers in the departments of civil life. Are they armed with arguments, bottomed on the respectable ground of human legislation? He wields the more potent armour of divine and indispensable requisition. And do they urge the sanction of temporal reward and punishment? This is common to both; while he discloses to the view of hope the bright regions of eternal day; and denounces to iniquity, the opposite eternal retribution which awaits it. A protecting Providence and an influencing Grace are sources of encouragement open to him; while there is nothing analogous to them in what relates exclusively to the transactions of the world. A transient observer might suppose, that these motives must essentially suffer in point of efficacy, from the frequency of repetition. But this is not necessarily the case: For they admit of being so varied in form, according to the different subjects to be sustained by them, that even the habitual preacher, although not having always something new at his command, may so accommodate what is in substance familiar, as to prevent its being ail offensive species of repetition.
Although in possession of this very eminent advantage, it must be confessed, that he labours under the disadvantage of a more powerful interest against him, than is usually met with in other departments of publick speaking. Take a court of judicature; and generally, if conviction can be carried to the judgments of the court and of the jury, there is no danger of an undue bias, preventing equity in decision. In legislative bodies, there may be a greater proportion of prejudice, and a greater excitement of passion. This, however, does not commonly happen, as to questions in which the very existence of society is at stake. But how great the difference in the line of evangelical persuasion! The reason is, a counteracting cause in the corruption of the human heart. When Agrippa said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian," he laid bare this sore place in our constitution; and it is the same which was referred to by St. Paul, when he said of human nature, in its unrenewed state:--"The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Here is a formidable enemy to conviction, and much more so to persuasion; especially, as there can be no accommodation to his demands, in order to gain him to our interest. Far from this, if the case so require, there are exacted "the cutting off a right hand," and "the plucking out a right eye," meaning in the spiritual sense intended. And under all circumstances, there is to be invariably guarded against "a communion of light with darkness, and of Christ with Belial."
In this, then, there must be acknowledged to exist a powerful resistance of any persuasive talents of the preacher, however eminent; and the reason of its being exhibited is to show the importance of possessing, as much as possible, a counterpoise to it in the weight of professional and of personal character; the result, as to the former, of its being properly sustained by the person vested with it; and, in regard to the latter, of an opinion entertained of his sincerity; especially of his being above the being suspected of uttering any other than his well-weighed opinions; and what, in his estimation, are conducive to the benefit of his hearers. During a sermon, let but the idea occur to any mind, that it is either composed or delivered with a view to the exhibition of self; and immediately all prospect of persuasion is at an end. The same effect would follow in a degree, in every other line of publick speaking. But in the ministerial character it goes to the extent, and is irremediable. The like is the result of the hearers' recollecting of any passages of the preacher's private life; amounting to evidence, or what is deemed such, that religion exercises no control, or what is very feeble, over his temper and ordinary conduct. If such a person possess talents either of argument or of persuasion, they may perhaps excite admiration and applause; but it must be an extraordinary event indeed, if ever his discourses should so come home to the consciences and to the affections of his hearers, as to excite in them the sensibility of disgust at what he cautions them to avoids or love of what he exhorts them to pursue.
Thus, there may be perceived in human nature the ground of a considerable connexion between personal character and persuasive influence. Besides, the same may be supposed to be the result of the high truth of Scripture, that "Paul may plant, and Apollos may water;" and all to no purpose, unless "God give the increase." For although, in like manner as God made the mouth of wicked Balaam the vehicle of prophecy, he may make the ministry of other wicked men subservient to the spreading of his blessed Gospel; yet it is probable, that the influences of his grace will be the most bestowed on the ministry of his faithful pastors; and that these are they who sow the seed, which "brings forth some thirty fold, and some sixty, and some an hundred."
At the entrance on the subject of persuasion there was an intimation given, that the word was not to be taken in so limited a sense, as to exclude the motives which result from the consideration of the Divine judgments in a future state of retribution. The sentiment is now reverted to, in order to guard against the danger of a reluctance to present so awful a consideration before the consciences of a congregation. No doubt it must be a sublime motive, which shall elevate to the perfection of Christian virtue: and we have the authority of an apostle for the position, that "perfect love casteth out fear." Further: let the acknowledgment be made, that there is a coarse manner of proclaiming the terrors of the Lord, sometimes even marked by vulgarity, which the preacher should be advised rather to avoid than to imitate. Still, there is the extreme, of not proclaiming in the proper place, the woes denounced by the word of God; and in not taking care, that there shall be occasionally, in the course of preaching, a proper opportunity of such denunciation. If the thought should interfere, that the warnings, even properly clothed, are too coarse for the manners of a cultivated auditory; the answer is, that there can be no state of manners dispensing with the opening of the whole counsel of God. It is a part of his dispensation, that he has threatened "tribulation and anguish to every soul of man that doeth evil." To dwell entirely, or even principally on this awful theme, is to overlook those more persuasive motives of our holy religion, which make it "a drawing with the cords of love." But to consider as useless the other side of the two-edged sword of Scripture, is to make ourselves amenable to that denunciation by the prophet Ezekiel:--"When I say unto the wicked, thou shall surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked, from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand."
In addition to the sentiments delivered concerning the two objects of preaching, there
may be use in something on certain questions, which have equally a reference to both.
One of the questions, and the most material of them, is that of the comparative value of one species of preaching, called evangelical; and of another species of it, called moral. If the competition were stated to any intelligent person, a stranger to the circumstances on which it is grounded, yet well instructed in the Christian system; he would wonder, on the one hand, how there could be evangelical instruction without a comprehension of Christian morals; and, on the other hand, how there could be Christian morality, not grounded on Christian doctrines. And he would suspect, that the difference were altogether the result of different senses annexed to words. This, however, is not the case: there is a real difference in the matter; although the existence of the evil sometimes occasions there being taken an advantage of the uncertain use of words; and a perversion of that advantage to improper purposes.
It is not to be denied, but, on the contrary, is to be deeply lamented, that a considerable portion of the clergy are to be faulted, not only for avoiding subjects which belong exclusively to Revelation; but even for the treating of other subjects in such a manner, as that they seem very little improved by the additional lights brought to them by Revelation, and by the sanctions with which it sustains them. In short, there are some sermons, both from the press and from the pulpit, in which it would be difficult to discover the intended character of the composition, but for a passage of Scripture under the name of a text, in the beginning; and perhaps some slight mention of the Saviour of the world, in the conclusion. In some instances, the discourse might serve, if the subject have been ingeniously handled, much better for an essay in a periodical work of moral instruction, than for an occasion, the object of which is to open and to apply the discoveries of the Divine Spirit, as they are communicated in the word of truth. This species of sermonizing seems to have been introduced by some of the clergy, after the restoration of Charles II. and it has been accounted for from that other species of preaching, very much bordering on Antinomianism, which became fashionable between the putting down of the Church in the reign of Charles I. and its re-establishment under his son--this may account for the opposite extreme, but cannot justify it.
On the other hand, the charge of mere moral preaching is not seldom brought, when it is not well founded. To some ears, nothing short of Calvinism comes under the character of evangelical preaching: while again, to some, a sermon approaches to the proper standard in this respect, in proportion as it has a tendency to excite animal sensibility. In addition, there are some persons who entertain the opinion, that to render a sermon truly evangelical, it should exhibit the whole Christian doctrine in epitome. It is easy to perceive, that, according to the last theory, there is not in Scripture a single apostolick address, which answers to the character of a preaching of Christ. Let there be taken, for instance, that of St. Paul, on Mars Hill, at Athens; or that of the same apostle before Felix; or that before Festus and king Agrippa; or that of St. Peter to the Jews, on the day of Pentecost; or that of the same apostle to Cornell us, with his household and assembled friends; and it will be found, that there is some leading sense, prompted by the occasion, and not a development so diffusive, as that the very spirit of the matter, principally intended, must be lost in it. And yet these were occasions, on which the addresser found the hearers utter strangers to the contents of the preached Gospel. Accordingly, the argument drawn from them, applies much more forcibly to the ordinary occasions of addressing audiences, doubtless in some degree, informed, although having need for one or for another point to be elucidated or enlarged on, from time to time.
There have been here stated two extremes; and the question occurs--What is the proper medium for a minister, satisfied of the censures due to them respectively? These two directions seem sufficient; first, to preach sufficiently often on prominent doctrines of Revelation; not failing to apply them to moral purposes: Und secondly, to preach also on moral duties; but this; under the improved forms of the Christian system, and enforced by its peculiar sanctions. These are important points, and deserve further elucidation.
It was said, that the preacher should discourse sufficiently often, on the prominent doctrines of Revelation. What proportion of his regard these should occupy cannot be defined; because it must depend partly on the states of different congregations; in some of which, certain truths may be more denied or doubted of than in others: but even where there does not exist either, denial, or doubt, nor yet a defect of information, there will be reason to bring forward such subjects, because of the uses to which they tend. It is one advantage in this Church, that its principal holy days invite to the subjects which they were respectively designed to commemorate; so that they can hardly be overlooked by any minister, without his giving of cause to suspect the soundness of his faith. If, however, the truths now referred to should never be heard from his lips, except when forced from him by such occasions; there will be reason to fear, that he feels no interest therein; and that, therefore, whatever salutary influence belongs to them, must be lost on him. It was added under this head, that such subjects, when preached on, should be applied to moral purposes. But under these terms, there should be included whatever improves the heart, as well as whatever regulates the conduct. On this point, much ambiguity is the consequence of different ideas, annexed by different people to the same words. Some, under the notion of morality, include nothing beyond the decorum of outward act; which may evidently be free from signal fault, while yet the heart may be the seat of pollution and of unsanctified passion. Such persons do not consider our Lord's sermon on the mount as moral preaching; or the whole of the Epistle of St. James as a moral composition; and yet, they contain very little matter to any other purpose. The same may be said of the most of the last four chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and of parts of some other of his epistles. But it is to. be suspected, that such dissatisfied persons are sometimes correct in their charge of fault; and not so in their manner of expressing it: the preaching in question having no tendency beyond decorum of conduct; and on, that account called moral preaching, although it is evidently unworthy of the name. It is a pity, that such erroneous apprehensions should be confirmed by any scheme of religious instruction, the end of which may be accomplished, consistently with the leaving of the inward man in a sinful state. Let every minister be on his guard against this; and accordingly, in the opening of Christian doctrine, let there be shown its tendency, so far as it is prohibitory, to the unvailing to men of their sinfulness and their imperfection; and so far as it is exhortatory, to the demonstrating to them of the necessity of being "holy, both in body and in spirit."
There was further the advice, to exhibit moral duties under the improved forms of the Christian system. So far as this respects the renovation of the heart, it has been remarked on; but besides, morals, as enjoined in the Gospel, extend beyond what they generally are in the estimation of the world. There is no need to dwell particularly on the forgiveness of injuries, and some other matters, in regard to which Christianity has confessedly superadded to the moral system of the most enlightened of the Heathen sages. There is hardly a duty, the obligation of which is confessed in the abstract, which, in the detail, is not very much weakened by prevalent corrupt opinion. Hence the danger of dwelling too much on general truths, which are shot over the heads of the most egregious delinquents in practice. It is only by following criminal passion into those its more plausible workings, in which it is the most likely to escape the censure of the world, perhaps, even to gain their approbation, that there can be brought home to the conscience of the delinquent the application, "Thou art the man," to whom the intended admonition is directed.
But it was further remarked, that even in the thus preaching of moral duties, they should be sustained by the peculiar sanctions of Revelation. Here it is, that the minister may the most signally entitle himself to the reputation of an evangelical preacher, taking the expression in the proper sense, without subjecting himself to the just censure of entertaining his audience habitually with matters of speculation: thus accommodating himself to that frailty of human nature, which makes some persons more ready to listen to what will gratify their curiosity, than to what will improve their lives and conversation. Although it is not denied, but indeed contended, that doctrinal subjects should in due measure be stated at large, with their proper proofs; yet, when the truth of them is presumed, and they are brought in aid of the design of producing devout and virtuous sensibilities, the use is no longer speculative, but practical in the most liberal sense of the term, as it carries along with it our best affections. While there is not a single moral duty, but what admits of being enforced in the manner here recommended, it is the only way in which the topicks of enforcement can be so varied, as to prevent the offence of continual repetition. For although fastidiousness at the hearing of the same truths, clothed in nearly the same expressions, is very unreasonable, and a great hindrance of edification; yet, there is a claim for as much variety, as is included in that saying of St. Paul--"I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."
Another question which may bethought proper to be brought forward is, whether, or if at all, under what limitations, the discourses of a clergyman may manifest his literary attainments; meaning such as have an evident relation to sacred subjects; for as to any other, it will doubtless be acknowledged, that the exhibiting of them is an abuse of the pulpit, as well as an unequivocal evidence of vanity. But there are some branches of human literature, which must be confessed to have a near relation to the opening of the sense of Scripture. Of these there are two sorts, such as may be professedly referred to, and such as may have a less sensible influence on a discourse. Of the former, are the original languages of Scripture, and of history, and antiquities, connected with it. A preacher's availing himself of these helps, is sometimes absolutely necessary for the explaining of a text. But if he will consult popular edification, he will be sparing in this particular; and, having an unlimited choice of subjects, will avoid those which call for a considerable extent of criticism. It is allowable to him to have an additional motive to this, in a wish to avoid the charge of pedantry and ostentation. Some entertain the idea, that a great difference in this respect is to be observed on account of the various degrees of cultivation of different audiences. But where is the audience, in which there is not a considerable mixture of persons of slender capacities and of scanty information? And are these to be reckoned as cyphers, for the gratifying of the curiosity of some cultivated minds, the possessors of which have probably at least as much need as the others, to be addressed as sinners? and to be incited to duties incumbent on persons of all degrees? There are not here recollected any occasions, on which the hearers may be supposed to be all scholars; except when they are collegiate bodies, or of the clergy. Now, although there may be conceded before either of these, a greater latitude than before others, as to the point under consideration; yet even this should have its limits, on account of the immense importance of the plain and practical truths, of which there will be occasion to remind the persons referred to; and to which the treasures of literature should be made subservient; if the preacher's being rich in them is a circumstance, which there should be at all occasion to make appear.
In alluding to literary attainment of a more insensible influence, there was especially intended grammar, including correct writing in every particular, and whatever comes under the name of eloquence. In the present improved state of society, there can be no doubt, that a clergyman's paying of due attention to the former, is necessary to elevate him above contempt: and this, not only in the estimation of people who have had the advantage of a liberal education; but with the less cultivated also, to whom opinion of character descends from those above them. But the less is to be here said of the qualification, because of its being visible in its effects only; and in such effects as consist rather in the avoiding of fault, than in any positive excellence.
In regard to eloquence, with all the rules which it prescribes, to please and to persuade; so far as it is a branch of literature, the study of it involves the study of human nature; and therefore must, in various points of view, be worthy of a Christian minister. Besides, if, for the illustration of its precepts, he were to fix his attention on the best specimens of oratory, in the works of writers whether On sacred subjects or on any other, yet stamped by the approbation of the best judges, through a long tract of time; it will not only enable him to distinguish true from spurious eloquence, but help to excite in him all good affections. After this commendation of a knowledge of the subject; and with the confession, that the mind can hardly be too well instructed in its rules; there is hazarded the opinion, that a preacher, in his preparation for the pulpit, should have little concern for the arraying of his discourse in the dress of eloquence. If its figures or any other of its ornaments, should present themselves of their own accord, let them take their proper stations; but let it not seem, that he has so far lost sight of his proper object, as to go in quest of them. Or if, in his progress, there occur any sentiment addressing itself to the conscience or to any sensibility of the heart, let it be drawn from him by his subject, as a matter spontaneously growing out of his design rather than as being a part of it. The opinion here expressed, is very much strengthened by what we are told of the early ages of the Church, so far as the present matter is concerned. It is said, that within the first two or three centuries, the usual practice of the Christian clergy was; after the prayers, to make a discourse in explanation of some part of Scripture, with an improvement of it; all in the utmost simplicity of style. We have no remains of these discourses; but it can hardly be believed, that they were destitute of the species of eloquence, which truths of the highest importance force from the mind, become warmed by them. The eloquence of which they are said to have been destitute, must have been that artificial and studied species of it, which was an imitation of the oratory of the Heathen in their popular assemblies. This became fashionable in the Church, in the fourth century. But although that age has sent down to ours some splendid specimens of genius, in the works of a Chrysostom, of a Nazianzen, of an Austin, and Of others; yet it may be questioned whether what was thus gained in a command over the passions, were not more than counterbalanced by the loss of the more habitual fixture of the affections. We read of the matters at last coming to such a pass, that persons were placed at proper stations, to give signals of sensible applause of the talents of the preacher; and that in this loud testimony, it was expected of the audience to join. Surely, before there could be tolerated such an abuse, there must have been a great falling off from primitive integrity generally. And that this was indeed the case, appears from considerations unconnected with the matter now in hand.
On this subject of pulpit eloquence, there shall be made a remark which may be of use in reading books, written with a view to improvement in that line. The authors of such books naturally illustrate their precepts, by examples from celebrated authors. But the student will have mistaken the aim, if he should imagine, that his own invention is to be on the rack, for the inventing of such excellences of discourse. Whenever there is found a blaze of genius of this description, it will appear, on an investigation, to have depended sometimes on adventitious circumstances; and almost always on a preceding train of sentiment, preparing the mind of the speaker for an extraordinary effort, and the minds of the hearers to feel the force of it. Hence it is, that a discourse cannot be made up of the brilliant ornaments here in contemplation; and accordingly, where they are much affected, the probability is, that in their stead there will be meretricious ornaments, not splendid to any eyes besides those of the person who has devised them.
Although eloquence and elocution are in some measure distinct subjects; yet, of the former the latter is so much an appendage, that there is taken occasion to say something concerning it. [The two terms, eloquence and elocution, are variously distinguished by different authors. The latter term, as here used, a confined to diction and attendant action.]
The lowest grade of it, is the speaking distinctly and with propriety. There can hardly be any need to prove, that a minister cannot be too desirous of accomplishing himself in this particular, provided his pains to that effect disappear, and the fruit of them only be discernible in the pulpit. Let him, however, make sure of this measure of elocution, before he permit his ambition to look up to a higher grade of it. For this happens sometimes to young men; and, when happening, can be accounted for only by a fancied perfection in voice and in a command of it; amidst the charms of which, imperfections of a lower degree will hardly be discoverable. If, besides what may be the result of an ordinary share of Nature's gifts and, on application, at the command of, every one, the recently ordained orator should possess the gifts especially adapted to the important uses of impressing Christian truths and persuading to Christian duties; surely this his talent ought not to be hid in a napkin; but he is to make the utmost use of it, under the influence of an enlightened zeal and the true spirit of Christian piety. But let the young bird begin with moderate trials of the strength of his wings: and let him not construe early praise into an unequivocal testimony to his merit. Young preachers have, in this very line, been buoyed up by praise; the result, in some of a false taste, and in others, of a good natural disposition to augur well from what they construed an honourable effort; when a little time has shown, that both speakers and hearers have mistaken inclination for natural fitness; and the former have sunk to a level with the mass of their brethren, in respect to the popularity and the praise attached to eloquence. The sentiments here expressed concerning the voice and the management of it, apply exactly to that other branch of elocution, which consists in action. There can be no doubt of the utility of it when discreetly managed, nor of its being contemptible, under any other circumstances. To be used sparingly, may be considered as a property resulting from the nature of the subjects to which it is made an appendage. For if they be such, and handled in such a manner, as suits the pulpit, they are not so full of passion as to require abundant action to sustain it. For instance, if the preacher should, in his zeal, discharge blows on any material object, such as a cushion or a board, such zeal must be disproportioned to the occasions; unless, in the vehemence of his anger, the discharge on inanimate matter be what he had rather bestow on his hearers, were they within his reach. There can be no doubt, that such a grade of passion would be very ill suited to the duty in which he is engaged. Every one must perceive, that what was said on some other points, of leaving behind, on entry into the pulpit, all thought of the preparatory discipline, applies to this point more than to any other. For let there occur to the hearer, that the attention of the speaker, when he should be alive to the sacred theme of his discourse, is drawn aside to the appearance of his person; and if he should possess the gifts of a Demosthenes or of a Cicero, they will be lost as to any religious effect to be produced.
We may pass to another question, grounded on the comparative pretensions of different modes of preaching, its being extemporary, or from memory, or from writing. Here again occurs the difficulty of laying down rules which shall apply universally. There can be no doubt, that the first mentioned form has its uses, and these very striking. But if the uses cannot be accomplished without tedious repetitions, or without very verbose amplification, or without palpable errors of diction, the good would seem overbalanced by the evil. The latter may be borne with to some extent, yet this has its limits. If, indeed, we were to conceive what sometimes a preparatory prayer insinuates, that the preacher has reason to trust, for what he is to deliver, to immediate illumination; this ought to bear down all contrary considerations. But within our communion, it may be taken as a point universally acknowledged, that the discourse, whether extemporary or otherwise, ought to be preceded by study; and if the preacher is not to make his sacrifice "of that which hath cost him nothing," the way in which his labours may be made the most effectual to the end designed, must be to him the way to be preferred. So far as the taste and the feelings of the deliverer of these sentiments are concerned--who, however, does not make them a test for others*--the principles here laid down would remove the greater number of extemporary preachers whom he has happened to hear, from that class to the other of writers of their sermons.
The next mode mentioned, was the delivering from memory. The danger attached to, this, is its subjecting both of the mind and of the appearance of the preacher to such constraint, as is unsuitable to the business in which he is engaged, and cannot fail to be offensive to the hearers. Of the few within recollection who have aimed at this, the manner of almost all was injured by it. And among the objections to this expedient, there is the increasing difficulty, which will be the consequence of an advance in years. It is well known that this will occasion a decline of memory, while the judgment and all the other powers of the intellect may retain their vigour. The only clergyman here known to have derived advantage from it adequate to the pains taken, was the late Rev. Jacob Duché, of the city of Philadelphia. When he began his ministry in Christ Church of that city, his voice, his pronunciation, and his action, were immediately subjects of great commendation; but he had the disadvantage of nearness of sight. In a short time, however, he was observed to lay by, almost entirely, the help of his manuscript; his notice of which, when it happened, became visible to the congregation, as he had to bring his face very near to the cushion on which his sermon lay. This amiable gentleman had a very extraordinary talent for that particular exercise of the memory, to which he was thus incited. There are many still living, who know with what ease he prepared himself in this department. And he has been often heard to acknowledge, that it would have been generally impossible to him, a few days after the delivery of a sermon, to have recited a single paragraph of its contents. Certain it is, that he manifested no signs in the pulpit, of his being there puzzled in the work of recollection. And this circumstance, added to what has been said of his voice, and the praise due to the correctness of his action, made his delivery exceedingly pleasing. Were this addressed to a young clergyman, known to be possessed of his particular cast of memory and his exterior address--the rare accomplishment of voice may be put out of the question--the advice to such a beginner would be, by all means to deliver himself memoriter. But it is hesitated to make the advice general, for the reasons which have been given.
There remaining only the third mode, and it being that with which, if the sentiments here stated be correct, the great mass of the clergy should be content; let the opinion now delivered be guarded against the being misunderstood, as if intending that they should read their sermons in the same manner as that in which any man would read to a company an unconned book. No--before a clergyman brings a sermon with him into the pulpit, he ought, on grounds irrelative to the present question, to have read over and over what is to be laid before his audience, and to have meditated on it, so as to have his mind possessed of the contents, independently on their being written. When he is thus furnished, his manner will show that he is aware of there being an audience before him, as well as a book under his eye. If the evidence of being interested in what is delivered were attached exclusively to extemporaneous preaching, this ought to be pronounced the only allowable mean of evangelical instruction. But it is not so, as we learn from records concerning preachers of former days; and from what may have been seen within our own. In a letter of the celebrated Dean Swift, there are some good remarks on this subject, and great encouragement to the kind of preparation here spoken of. The writer of this, having illustrated a former remark by reference to a late living character, will explain his meaning here, by reference to another. The preacher alluded to, is the late Dr. Smith, who was always heard with satisfaction. He had no uncommon advantage of voice; and of action, absolutely none. It is true, his sermons were of the first rank, for merit; but this is sometimes known to happen, without much interest taken in the hearing. This gentleman did not commonly make his sermons familiar to him, in the degree already recommended; and as may be done, without committing them to memory. Why, then, was he always earnestly attended to? Besides the acknowledged merit of his compositions, it is not here seen, that there could have been any thing besides the interest, which in the course of the delivery, he was observed to take in the subjects of them.
Under these circumstances, the opinion is decidedly entertained, that the object being not the exhibition of talent, but the accomplishing of the ends of the ecclesiastical ministry, the great majority of the clergy will always be best employed in aiming at perfection, within the verge which has been marked out. All, however, here exacted of a beginner, is his being sure of a competency to this, before his aiming at an higher mark. One danger of the latter, is his acquiring of a species of eloquence and of manner, which will be praised, and even followed for a little while; but which, in a preacher habitually heard, will degenerate to such insipidity, as to produce a general indifference in his hearers. And this will perhaps be imputed by him to a decline of zeal; while it is resolvable into the false glare of apparent merit, which vanishes when the subject of it becomes submitted to a more frequent and a more near inspection.
Perhaps there may be use in saying something on another agitated question--Whether it be allowable in a preacher to deliver the sermons of other men, of which there are so many confessedly excellent given to the publick from the press? Unquestionably, if he be incompetent to the writing of such a discourse as will be acceptable to well informed persons, he had better deliver to them the judicious matter of other men, than to burden them with what is unedifying of his own. But it is doubted, whether such a minister should be left to his own judgment in the choice; and it is rather thought, that the sermons should be prescribed to him, as the Homilies were prescribed at the Reformation, because of the great number of unlettered clergy. But at the same time, let the question occur, Whether such a person should be admitted to the ministry? Under the present improved circumstances of society, it may be thought, except under some very peculiar circumstances, that he should not; because, in general, he can hardly fail to have within his congregation some of better information, who will despise him for his low attainments, and whose contempt will even be imitated by others.
Perhaps it will be asked, why, even supposing the minister possessed of a good understanding, and of a respectable share of literature, may he not avail himself of the labours of men superior to himself? The answer is, that in this case his usefulness will probably be injured. Should he borrow, no doubt his view would be to sermons of considerable merit. In this case, it will fare better with him than it has with many others, if some hearer be not occasionally acquainted with the mine from which he took his ore. Let this be generally known, as in all probability will be the case, and the consequence will be, that his hearers will always conceive of their being addressed by some unknown character, through his mouth: unless, indeed, he deliver a very uninteresting discourse, of which he will be complimented with the reputation of being the author. All this would be the less worthy of consideration, if it were indifferent to the effect of edification. But this is not the case. There may be instruction under such circumstances; but the preacher will hardly interest the affections.
If a clergyman be favoured with an ordinary share of understanding, and an education suitable to his profession, there is required nothing but habit to enable him to commit his sentiments to paper. Doubtless, something more is necessary to his handling of a subject of Christian faith or morals. But of the information necessary for this he should be possessed, independently on the present question. If he is not to bring sacred subjects before his audience in the form suggested by his own understanding, he is without one considerable motive, for revolving such subjects frequently in his mind. There can be no doubt, that by committing them to paper, and by placing them in the various lights which habitual preaching requires and leads to, he will be much better prepared for stating them in conversation, than he would ever become by mere reading.
But let not this be understood, as a discouragement from the reading of other men's sermons, and especially the best of them, in private, which will have the double use of furnishing with a store of ideas, and the preventing of a false taste. For if there should be perceived by the preacher, that he fancies any characteristics of composition different from those which have stood the test of time, he may be assured that he is in a mistaken track, from which he should make a retreat as soon as possible.
The amount of the whole is this: Let the preacher be well informed on sacred subjects generally: Let him revolve over and over those which he intends to bring with him into the pulpit: Let him form the plan of his sermon in his mind before he ventures to commit it to paper: And then, instead of torturing his invention for novel conceits, and putting his imagination on the stretch for flights of eloquence, let him commit his ideas to paper in a natural order, and in such language as the most easily presents itself; liable however to a review, in order to lop off superfluities, and to conform his periods to his own habits of delivery.
The last remark suggests the propriety of saying something on the subject of the style of a sermon. Perhaps the abhorrence here entertained of affectation, may carry on this point to an extreme; but the opinion to be delivered is, that no man should make style a matter of consideration, any further than for the prevention of fault. The avoiding of superfluity on the one hand, and of obscurity on the other, the not making of sentences so long as to render the reading of them difficult, nor so short as to give an air of stiffness, these and other faults may be guarded against, while yet the writer may retain his natural manner of expressing himself; and in this there will always be some degree of variety, accommodated to variety of sentiment and of feeling among men. The subject may be illustrated by a comparison. Different men hare different gaits, in their respective customary walking. But any man may be conscious of such inattention, as must endanger his person, and this he may endeavour to correct, without affecting the air and carriage of another. It would seem, that in like manner, a writer may be so far attentive to the construction of his sentences, as to make them not disagreeable to the ear, without wishing to attain to any particular character of style. The aiming at this has sometimes rendered a writer contemptible. And perhaps it never fails to render his matter less effective, than it would have proved in his own natural manner; which always partakes in some degree of personal character, and must be on that account the more impressive.
There shall be concluded the whole subject of preaching, with an article of advice; applying to it in every point of view, in which it has been, or can be exhibited. The advice is, that a preacher remark carefully the difference between the expedients which arrest popular attention for a while, but are interesting no longer than during their being novel; and such solid and judicious means, as continue to be satisfactory. In the saying of this, there is altogether put out of view, the gratification of vanity; which is an object not to be entertained, and therefore not worthy of advice, to favour the accomplishment of it. But a clergyman, wishing to catch the ear of the people, with a view to religious cultivation, may adopt for the purpose some of the expedients, against which there is here put in a caution. Let him be assured, that they are base metal, which will pass for coin, no longer than until the washing off the surface. And this will sooner happen to his well intended but mistaken artifices, than to the material to which they are here compared.
This is made one of the principal divisions, rather because of its importance, than on account of any multiplicity of remarks which it can give occasion to. In truth, they must be comparatively few, in a department in which so little is left to the discretion of the officiating minister. It is trusted, however, that there is importance attached to the matters which are to be brought forward.
It would be a great mistake, to suppose that there is so definite a line drawn between preaching and publick prayer, as that this does not partake of the properties of the other. Far from it, there can hardly be a more effectual way of holding up to the minds of a congregation the truths of Christianity, than through the medium of their being comprehended in rational and evangelical services of devotion. It is not here meant, that such services should have a relation to the many controversies agitated within the bounds of the Christian Church. But the doctrines which distinguish her as Christian, should surely be comprehended. It would be foreign to the present design, to undertake to show, what is here however presumed to be the fact, that our different services have observed the proper medium in this respect. There is no small evidence of the truth of the remark, in the commendations bestowed on the liturgy, by intelligent persons of different denominations; among whom, there being a prescribed liturgy is held to be inconsistent with Christian liberty. Of the many advantages of an authoritative form, this is not the least, that it preaches the Gospel to the people, when they would look for it in vain from the officiating minister: who may strictly avoid whatever can be supposed to offend against the doctrine of his Church; and yet, in his discourses, show very little influence of that doctrine, or of the holy morality which derives from the same source all its life and spirit. There can hardly be occasion to prove, that in the estimation of a well-informed audience, the character of a minister must needs sustain a great disparagement, when there come from him, in the desk, truths presumed to be of great importance; while, of the same truths, little or nothing is heard from him in the pulpit. On this account, our Church may be esteemed happy in a medium of communication, of which it is not in his power to deprive them. In addition to this, the reading of the Scriptures in our churches, more constantly, and in a greater measure than is done in any other communion, contributes much to the use here adverted to, of a preaching of the Gospel to the people, independent on the will or the character of the officiating minister.
If the opinion here delivered be correct, there follows Undeniably the inference, that every serious clergyman of our Church, independently on the promises made by him of conformity to the liturgy, ought to be careful not to contribute to the pulling down of this Venerable enclosure of our orthodoxy, by substituting any of the practices with which, that sacred property of it may seem unconnected; because, let the principle be once admitted, that individual opinion or taste may exercise itself in this way, and immediately, the opinion or the taste of any one man is not to be a rule for that of any other. In short, the whole will be at the mercy of caprice.
Opinion and taste have been here mentioned, as sources of deviation; and so they are, although of deviation of different description. When we hear of a minister's abbreviating of the appointed service, and of his being copious in that unappointed if permitted part, in which his own conceptions are brought forward; we may perceive plainly enough, that he considers the whole of the former as needless trammels on him, however he may partially conform to it for the sake of decorum to his engagements; or perhaps from being aware, that a proportion of his hearers entertain a predilection for the Church into which he has intruded. What then is the source of the freedom taken? Before an answer to this question, let it be remembered, that the person in question is destitute of all right, to the old plea, of the sin of submission to an asserted authority of the Church to decree rights and ceremonies. That plea was founded on a prejudice, which has been conscientiously entertained by some; and it is not intended to say any thing here on the controversy between them and us. But the subject has no relation to a man who has promised conformity to our twentieth article, provided he have a particle of integrity. Still the question occurs--What is the cause of his irregularity? It is here taken to be in substance this: he is possessed by the idea of such a degree of animal sensibility in the act of prayer, as will not consist with the spirit and with the language of the prayers of the Church. There is not one of them with which it is less compatible than with the Lord's Prayer, which she has taken from the Scriptures; and indeed the same may be said of any of the prayers therein found. Hence it is, with ministers of the description here stated, that they will be found, after the most vehement passion and action during their own unpremeditated prayers, when they come to the Lord's Prayer at the conclusion, to sink to temperance, if not to apparent indifference in their manner: for even the last has in some instances been remarked. The truth is, that neither any prayers in Scripture, nor our Church prayers, breathe a spirit in unison with that of a wild enthusiasm. And here is the secret of their motive for disengaging themselves from the latter, as much as decency permits.
But there was intimated another source of deviation originating in taste, or the party's opinion of his own judgment in agreeable or correct writing. Under this head, there may be brought all the changes which some ministers suppose to be allowable, under the idea, that one or another matter may be more happily expressed, than as found in the service. Now, a minister, taking such liberties, either is correct in his criticisms, or he is not. In the former case, why does he not consider, that ill chosen language, in a few instances, supposing it to exist, had better be endured, than a license which has a tendency to destroy all order? In the other part of the alternative, which has been known to happen in several instances, he evidently goes out of his way, to make absurdity chargeable at his door; while he supposes himself to have accomplished an improvement. According to the ideas here entertained, all license of this sort is the effect of vanity. Certain it is, that where the object of a minister is the exhibition of himself, whatever merit there may be either in the matter or in the expression of our prayers, none of it is ascribable to him. But, says he to himself, there occurs an opportunity of showing, how much the liturgy is susceptible of improvement from my talents for criticism. It is here believed, that a clergyman is always more or lees lowered in estimation, by the fault which has been noticed. They whose information is unequal to the question of the merits of his criticism, think the service good enough without his mendings: and they of a higher description do not think this a ground, on which he should seek literary reputation by a breach of order. Let it be remembered, that these sentiments are inapplicable to any questions which may arise on a constitutional review of the service; but such a measure will never be worth the sacrifice of personal convenience, which it exacts of those who may be employed in it, if their labours are to be re-judged and rendered inefficient by every vain sciolist who may imagine himself more competent to the work.
There has been noticed the fault of abridging the prescribed service, for the free indulgence of ranting prayers in the pulpit. But it is a less fault than the incongruous one, of a ranting manner of using the prescribed form. This has been sometimes done; although, as is here supposed, and for a reason given, very seldom. But there is another and a very different fault, that of affecting an oratorical, and, in some cases, even a theatrical manner in the prayers. Every person in the habit of hearing sermons from different preachers, must have occasionally been disgusted with the very affected airs, which, in the ordinary intercourses of society, denominate a man a coxcomb. It is much to be lamented, that such a person should have become of the body of the clergy; and more so, that he should bring his natural character into the pulpit; but most of all, that he should not forget it in the desk; where it is not in his power to accommodate the sense to the attendant manner. There are some people who have attained to so much of the Christian character, as to join in the prayers with a minister who gives them but little satisfaction either in the pulpit or in his life and conversation; but it is to be feared there are very few, although it must be confessed a still higher grade of attainment, who can accompany him with devout affections, while they consider the service as undergoing a solemn mockery, in the manner of the performance. If it were ever proper to disturb a religious society by sighs and groans, this would seem to be the occasion for them. It is certainly the abuse, the counteracting of which, by abstracting the sense of the service from the demerits of the reader, is the least in the power of the godly hearer.
Of the faulty readers which have been referred to, there is at least this to be commonly said, that they have taken some pains to shine in the service; however unworthy the motive, and however unsuccessful the result. But this does not excuse an opposite indifference and carelessness, in performing the high duty of leading the prayers of a congregation. The character of the others has vanity for its principal feature. This, however, such is the variety in the human character, is occasionally found with some conviction of the truths of religion, and perhaps some zeal in its cause; although not operating consistently. But of the fault here noticed, there is reason to apprehend, that it is the mark of a person seldom, perhaps never, engaged in the different exercises of worship, mentally. And this leads to the other suspicion, that, with the person supposed, the ministry stands on the same footing with that of any ordinary occupation, which is engaged in for support; while every thing that can interest the affections is looked for to some other quarter. To a man of such a stamp, there cannot be addressed any particular exhortation, but such as should go to a total change of the inward cast of character.
It is rather to be hoped, that every minister, before whom these remarks are to come, has entered on his office with an interest taken in its duties; and particularly in that department of duty, to which there belongs the proper reading of the publick prayers. Now, as there have been known some, who, at their entrance on the ministry, have aimed at the highest grade of oratory in the pulpit, while they have manifested, in the desk, an incompetency to correct reading, and sometimes such vicious pronunciation as a sensible school-mistress would not endure, in scholars advanced beyond their spelling-books; there may be use in the hint here offered, of not neglecting the more humble attainment, from ambition to reach that which makes a greater figure before the world. The minister is not advised to hide his talent, whatever it may be, in a napkin. But perhaps he may have mistaken his talent; and therefore let him try it in the humble department, before he test it in the higher. Correct reading is within the compass of the endeavours of the mass of those who have competent information for the ministry. Some people, indeed, have such imperfect organs of pronunciation, that they can never be tolerable as readers, either in publick or in private. It is a pity on their own account, as well as on that of the Church, that such should have made choice of the ministry for their profession. But if a man be possessed of a voice sufficient, with proper management, to be heard over churches of the ordinary size, and of powers of utterance of the ordinary standard, he may be supposed capable of attaining to a proper and edifying reading of the Common Prayer.
All that has been here said, for the keeping of ambition within the bounds of natural qualification, is no more than the applying to the present subject of the precept of Horace on that of poetry: "Sumite materiam vestris qui scribitis aequam viribus."
Even if a man possess powers of a higher grade than that above supposed, and display them in the pulpit, he should be earnestly cautioned against the introduction of his impassioned eloquence into the desk; because not suited to what is there to be recited. The best reading of any part of our service ever witnessed by the writer of this, was by the Reverend George Whitefield, in the administration of the communion. It was the only time the writer ever heard him read; although he has heard him several times from the pulpit. Here, his voice and his action were at times very highly impassioned; yet not more so than agreed with the sense of what he said. But there was not a particle of that kind of elocution, at the Lord's table. The writer never, in any profession, met with a speaker who had so many pleasing tones in the modulation of his voice; which was also, in itself very pleasing. If he had ever diligently studied to attain to the art of speaking well; never was any man happier, in avoiding all appearance of art in his delivery.
The next best reader of the prayers, within the sphere of the acquaintance of the present writer, was a gentleman already mentioned under the head of preaching, the Reverend Mr. Duché. He was perhaps not inferior to Mr. Whitefield in the correctness of his pronunciation. His voice was remarkably sweet; although short of the voice of the other gentleman, in the compass of its powers, and especially in modulation. Mr. Duché was frequently oratorical in his sermons, but never so in the reading of the prayers; although always read by him with signs of unaffected seriousness and devotion. There have been cited the examples of these two gentlemen; because, being of acknowledged celebrity in the department of elocution, the publick approbation of them may be proof, that the proper exercise of this gift is not precisely the same in the desk as in the pulpit. And yet it does not follow, that there is less endeavour to be used for accomplishment as to the former.
In truth, there should be earnestly recommended a frequent and attentive reading of the Common Prayer in private, with a view to the proper reading of it in publick; particularly in regard to the pronounciation of words, the emphasis, the modulation of the voice, and the medium to be observed between an utterance too slow or too rapid. There are some other matters of minor importance; but the above being the principal, each of them shall be remarked on.
In regard to the pronunciation of words; although there seems to have taken place, within memory, many useless and capricious changes, according to the successions of fashionable standards; yet there may be given, as to this point, precisely the advice which the giver of it has been accustomed to offer to young persons, as to the article of dress. The advice has been, that in regard to the cut of a coat or of a gown, they should appear like the rest of the world; but that as to the changes taking place, they should not make themselves remarkable, either for an early adoption of a fashion, or for going to the extreme of it. Of late years, there has been a succession of writers, each of whom has claimed the merit of devising principles, which should give a new cast to the popular pronunciation. They have also had the good fortune to acquire a considerable degree of approbation. No doubt there will be other claims, with the like success. The proper line of conduct, is to take the present standard, whatever it may be. This is not meant to discourage the minister's study of language, as a branch of science; and particularly the structure of his vernacular language. But whatever may be his opinions in his study, let him, in practice, take his tone from society; that is, from the more cultivated part of it. This can hardly bring him under the censure of "following the multitude to do evil;" but comes rather under the apostolick advice, of "becoming all things to all men," for a beneficial purpose.
The importance of attending to emphasis, is conspicuous in the circumstance of its being essential to the sense of the service, as to that of every other composition. Particular parts of the service might be mentioned, in which a false emphasis gives a foreign, and sometimes even a ludicrous sense to the expressions. Some readers, having been told of the importance of emphasis, and being desirous of coming up to the height of what is required of them in this particular, lay a stress on so many words, as that, after all, the emphasis of the leading word cannot be sufficiently distinguished. Every one must perceive, that this is an improper application of a correct rule; but however preposterous the abuse, it ought not to discourage a due attention to the subject, and the application to it of the principles of good sense; which, if permitted to govern, will ensure propriety in this particular.
The proper modulating of the voice, is a matter which, like emphasis, falls within the province of good sense: with this important difference, however, in the subjects, that whereas, in the one of them, there is an easy execution of what the judgment may ordain, it is not so in the other; the execution depending here on the formation of the organs of articulation. To this may be imputed an unhappy mistake made by some readers, in attempting a variety of modulation, to which their powers are incompetent. Their imaginations describe to them degrees of excellence, which they are desirous of attaining to; but in attempting this, they pass from the solemn to the familiar, and in other instances, from one tone to another, in so abrupt a manner as gives a grotesque appearance to the performance. And this, if the conjecture offered be correct, proceeds from their having of a worthy end in view, without an endowment of nature adequate to the accomplishment of it. This is mentioned, not to discourage the acquiring of the art of modulation, for nothing is more calculated to fatigue the attention, than a continued monotony, but only to temper the endeavour with the caution, of accommodating it to the extent of natural gift. This is different in different persons; and the diversity ought not to be disregarded, in the art of reading.
The last particular mentioned, was a proper medium between a too fast and a too slow pronunciation. Now, although the first is by far the more common fault; and, as the present writer has found by experience, very difficult to be corrected; yet, the opposite extreme is a fault also. The proper medium is to be attempted; but this, under the recollection, that what is such to one man, may not be so to another: for if he whose natural manner is quick, should carry his corrections too far, he would probably sink into a drawl; while, if the like were done by the person, whose utterance is naturally too slow, he would probably crowd his words together in a way which would prevent their being distinctly heard. The difficulty is the greater, if it be, as is here suspected, that hearers are differently constituted, in regard to what gives them pleasure or pain, in this particular. What is said may be illustrated by the following statement. In the year 1771, the present writer had the good fortune of hearing those two great men, the Lords Mansfield and Camden, in the British House of Peers, speaking in a legal cause then before the house, in the capacity of a final court of appeal. The two Lords mentioned, were on the same side of the question: for it was remarkable of them, that they seldom agreed on political questions, and that they as seldom differed on the legal. The cause related to the succession to a title and an estate; and was well known under the name of the Anglesea cause. Their accidental hearer was of course incompetent to enter into the legal merits of it; and was even uninformed of the circumstances of the case. Accordingly, the only objects of his attention were the elocution of the respective speakers. One prominent property of the manner of Lord Mansfield was, it being so deliberate, as that every word seemed to have been well weighed before the utterance of it; while yet, there was not a degenerating into tediousness. On the other hand, Lord Camden had a volubility of manner, which was not carried so far as to prevent his being intelligible. Had it been in the power of the hearer to have made the manner of either of these great men his own, he thinks he should have chosen Camden's; and yet, of the two, Mansfield has been the most celebrated as a speaker. This is consistent with the opinion already expressed, that we have not all the same standard of perfection, in the particular under notice. The result of the whole is that the proper medium is to be obtained as far as possible. When we hear a speaker, whose pronunciation is much too fast for us, finding that we cannot follow him in his train of sentiment, we give over the attempt. In the case of too slow a speaker, we find ourselves continually disappointed by the delay; and, in consequence, our attention wanders to some other subject of contemplation. At least, this takes place with him who now records it, and he supposes it to be so with others; although there may be different degrees of slowness, at which our respective tedium begins.
On the extensive subject in hand, there have been selected but a few points; and there has been said but little in regard to them: and the only use is to show, that the due reading of the service deserves to be made an object of serious care and attention. It is to the advantage of the present day, that there are many helps in the approved works of ingenious men. Nevertheless, whatever pains a minister may bestow in thinking or reading on the subject, it is requested of him most earnestly, that, on entering the desk, he will leave behind him all direct attention to his rules. It is in this line, as it is in that of morals; In the latter, if a man have habituated himself to act correctly, and from proper motives, he will continue his course of conduct as occasions may occur, without thinking of the principles which influence him. With the same ease, a reader should be correct, without thinking continually of the principles by which correctness is constituted. The act of prayer is of too high a nature to suffer the attention to be drawn aside to any reflections, alien from the sentiments which have a relation to the adorable object of the duty. There were mentioned two clergymen, remarkable for their agreeable reading of the prayers. In neither of them was there any thing which could have led the hearers to suppose, that, in the act of reading, their minds were at all occupied by concern as to the manner of performing it. Had that been visible, it would doubtless have very much detracted from their excellence, in the estimation of a critick; and perhaps have destroyed it entirely, as to the religious effect of inspiring or of increasing devotion.
Before the leaving of the present branch of the subject, there may be a use in saying something concerning that interesting part of the publick service which is sung. In the performance of this, the minister does not take the lead; while yet it is subjected to his control. Many of the psalms introduced into the morning and evening prayer, were intended to be sung, although they may be said also: and indeed, the same may be remarked of the whole book of psalms; which, as it stands in the Prayer Book, is pointed with a view to its being sung. Besides this, anthems, taken from Scripture, may be introduced by the minister into the service, without the imputation of irregularity. Further, the metre psalms and hymns are especially supposed, in the rubrick before them, to be sung after morning and evening prayer, under the direction of the minister. For these reasons, it is judged that the present is the proper place for noticing the department. We are on the subject of the reading of the prayers; and this is an adjunct of it.
Devotional singing may be divided into two species: that which, requiring a more than ordinary skill, is expected to be performed by select persons, especially well informed and practised in the art; and that which may be accomplished by the considerably greater part of an ordinary congregation. Under the former head, may be contemplated what the Church intends by the name of anthems: under the latter both chanting and the singing of compositions in metre, whether psalms or hymns.
On the question of the comparative, merit of the first and of the third species of singing, there have occurred, according to the apprehension here entertained, opposite extremes. Some would banish whatever comes under the name of anthem, while others avow their hostility to singing in metre. Let there be estimated the weight of each of these opinions.
The present writer, having never met with the first of them in England, and perceiving no tenable principle on Which it can be grounded, believes it to have been owing, in this country, to the ill-judged, and, in some cases, most indecent manner in which the practice has been introduced. We are all aware of the association of ideas. Now, there are many serious people, who cannot disconnect the idea of an anthem from the supposition, that the religious exercises for which the people are assembled are suspended, for the amusement of a few persons versed in the theory of musick, or perhaps only ambitious of being thought so; and who must be indulged in this relaxation from the irksomeness of listening to services and a sermon, in which they feel no interest. The plea is certainly palliated by the circumstance, that almost all the attempts here known to introduce this higher grade of singing, have been exactly such as were calculated to produce the dissatisfaction. The use to be made of the fact is, on the one hand, to bar the application of the abuse to the unqualified prohibition of that of which it is a profanation; and, on the other hand, to insist on the impropriety of allowing the thing itself, without a strong presumption that it will not be so abused; such presumption to arise from a satisfactory knowledge of the characters of the performers, of their musical sufficiency, and of their being well trained to their respective parts, before their exhibiting of themselves in publick.
As to the singing of poetry in metre, they who entertain a dislike of it in the Church of England have this to say, that it is not known either in the rubricks, or in the canons of that Church; the version of Sternhold and Hopkins having been introduced without any publick sanction, soon after the Reformation; and the later edition of Tate and Brady having been allowed by government, without any other ecclesiastical sanction than that of the Bishop of London of the day. So far is the latter version from being considered as clothed with authority, that, to this time, they have continued to use the former in a great pro portion, probably in the greater number of the parochial churches, and in the cathedrals; and yet, it is confessedly destitute of publick sanction. But is there not, in all this, considerable evidence that the said species of singing, in which the people could the most easily join, was found so conducive to devotion, as that the provision for such an end was suffered to come in silently, from a conviction of its utility? And as for there not being an ecclesiastical sanction in the Church of England, it is a circumstance irrelevant to the case of the Church in this country, which has permitted the psalms and the hymns in metre to be used after morning and evening prayer, and otherwise, at the discretion of the minister. There is something so agreeable to the mind in the idea of a general act of praise, adorned by poetry and musick, and sent up to the Eternal throne by a large assembly of Christian people; and, at the same time, it seems so natural a mean of increasing devotion, that an abridgment of this branch of publick worship would be an event to be deplored.
But why should there be such a prejudice against metre, when the learned are of opinion, that at least great proportions of the books of the prophets and of the book of psalms were originally in this dress? Bishop Lowth has taken much pains, and it has been thought with considerable effect, to reduce the prophecy of Isaiah to its original metre. And if the principle thus proceeded on be correct, it is not improbable, that the psalms sung in those devotions of the Jewish Church which our Lord and his apostles attended, were in the metrical form.
But it is said, that at a certain period of the Christian Church there was a discouragement of metrical compositions, on the principle that they savoured of the levity of Gentile worship. That there is necessarily levity attached to metre, may be denied: and the mere circumstance of its being used by the Heathen will not, it is to be hoped, find admittance into the Church to effect a prohibition, any more than that of the use of some of her prayers by the Roman Catholicks; which has been seriously, but indiscreetly objected to her.
Of metre, rhyme is not an essential circumstance. Nevertheless, if this artificial accommodation to the ear be peculiarly suited to the genius of our language--a point maintained by very able judges--there seems no reason why we should decline this or any other help, to the rendering of the clothing of religious sentiment agreeable and captivating. There are, however, some of the sacred compositions so stately, and others of them so full of tender passion, that rhyme has the effect of lessening the simplicity of the one and the dignity of the other. Of the first description, there may be mentioned the fiftieth psalm, beginning--"The Lord, even the most mighty God, hath spoken." Of the second, the fifty-first psalm may be mentioned, beginning--"Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness;" the solemnity of which is exceedingly sunk by the short metre of Tate and Brady, however commendable their translation: for it is here thought to be so generally. There shall also be mentioned in this place the hundred and thirty-seventh psalm, beginning--"By the waters of Babylon we cat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion." Of the psalms mentioned, it is here conceived, that Alexander Pope, master as he was of numbers, and friend as he was to rhyme, could not have imposed its shackles on them, without its being for the worse. We may the easier believe this, if we conceive of some poet putting into rhyme Milton's Morning Hymn; or his description of the Almighty, marking out from the immensity of space, the part of it which was thenceforward to be occupied by our system. To attempt to dignify such passages by rhyme, is to disparage them.
Notwithstanding this, and with the wish that a few of the psalms were in blank verse, yet with the caution that none but a consummate master should attempt it, there is felt a reluctance to part with rhyme--much more with metre.
On the subject of the singing part of the service, this is the proper place of admonishing a newly ordained minister, not to endure the indecencies, which are sometimes obtruded on congregations by persons who take the lead in the department. The abuse thus noticed might be get in various points of view, all of them aggravating the odium of it. But it shall be here considered only in relation to the injury done by it to our communion. Persons sometimes leave it on the professed principle, that they do not perceive a sufficient degree of seriousness in its members. The principle is indefensible: but ought not we to apply to ourselves the intimation--"Wo be to him by whom the offence cometh?" Again, a person of another communion enters one of our churches in which such levity is practised, He knows, that we boast of the excellency of our Common Prayer; but the reading of it comes to him under the weight of a prejudice, created by what is contrary to all decency and common sense. He says to himself something which carries the meaning, that "we have no oil in our lamps"--that we have no real piety; however, from a vague sense of obligation, or from hereditary habit, we may deem it expedient to keep up the forms of worship. Such a person, were he informed of the whole truth, would know, that at the very moment of the censured impropriety, there are many devout persons mourning over it in secret; and that of those who are not devout, at least the majority blame and despise the incongruity. And why has it been at all endured? The answer is--for the gratification of a few ungodly persons: an assertion, which should not have been hazarded by the present writer, had he ever known a single devout person among the practisers or the favourers of what is here blamed, lie cannot follow them to their closets: he cannot look into their hearts: but he can declare, with truth, that he never knew an individual of them, who denoted, either by deportment or by profession, that he worshipped God in publick or in private.
Under the head of the ordinary publick service of the Church, there falls that most solemn part of it--the administration of the holy communion. For although not administered on all the occasions of assembling for publick worship, yet it may be administered on any of them. Its being attended to in our churches only monthly, and on the three principal festivals, is one of the many proofs existing, that the piety of Christians is not so ardent as in the beginning. There are few facts more satisfactorily proved, than that of the eucharist having been administered in the primitive Church every Lord's day. Accordingly, it seems utterly unaccountable, that in some religious societies, in which it is administered seldomer than among us, they even censure the administering of it more frequently than is customary among themselves; and hold it to be contrary to godly discipline.
Although solemnity and decency are doubtless called for, by every branch of ecclesiastical administration, yet there is no one, in which any thing contrary to these dictates alike of reason and of piety, would be so apt to inflict wounds on devout minds, or indeed so much argue the absence of devotion from the mind of the minister. Accordingly he is exhorted, not indeed to that holy affection, which it would be dangerous to represent as exclusively attached to the part of the service now in question; but to be especially guarded against any irregularity, into which h« might otherwise be drawn in this respect.
As to the considerations which should govern in the reading of the communion service, what has been said already, applies here of course. There should, therefore, be dispensed with any further attention to the department, were it not, that there may be use in stating to a newly ordained minister, the grounds of a transaction which passed in this Church during the organizing of it; and further, in putting him on his guard against what is considered as an error avowed by a few individuals, since the period referred to; perhaps, merely from the not being aware of the consequences to which the error points; and of the feuds to which, if pressed, it would give occasion.
It must be known to every reader of the ecclesiastical history of England, that on the second setting forth of the liturgy in the reign of Edward VI. there were made two alterations of some moment, in the prayer of consecration of the eucharistick elements. In the first liturgy, there had been an oblation of the bread and the wine, as commemorative of the body and the blood of Christ; and an invocation of the Divine blessing on these elements, for their being sanctified to their proper end: but on the said review, these particulars were omitted. It is also well known, that the changes have been imputed to the influence of two learned foreigners--Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer, who were fugitives from the persecutions in Germany; and had been honourably provided for by the British government, in the universities. From the best information to be gathered, it is here thought, that considering the unobtrusive characters of those two men, however free to give their opinions, when asked for; and considering further the great learning and the independent spirits of Archbishop Cranmer and his associates; the latter must have entertained the opinion, that the parts of the service in question were not essential to the ordinance; and that having been much abused by superstition, they were best dispensed with. That the English reformers thought them superstitious in themselves ought not to be believed, because no evidence of it appears.
But whatever may have been the cause of this revolution, it has been lamented by a great proportion of the best informed clergy of the Church of England; who have ardently wished for a restoration of what had been left out, at the time alluded to. Hence it happened, that when a liturgy was provided, in the reign of Charles I. for the established Church of Scotland, at that time Episcopal; they who had the direction of the business, of whom the principal was Archbishop Laud, took care to insert, what they thought to have been unnecessarily omitted among themselves. The parts so restored were handed down in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, after it ceased to be an establishment. And there is no part of the service, to which the clergy of that Church are more attached. For there is here reason to think, that the matters in question are not uncommonly considered among them, as essential to the sacramental act.
There can be no doubt, that the two particulars in question were in the form for the consecration of the elements, at a period within the first three centuries. This may especially be proved, from what are called the apostolick constitutions: and although it is not a necessary inference, that they were in use within the age of the apostles, yet even this may be thought probable; while, that they preceded any corruption of Christian doctrine, seems absolutely certain. That they are not in themselves a corruption of the doctrine, but, on the contrary, in analogy with it, is here thought to arise clearly from an attention to the subject. The oblatory clause has been the most objected to; and yet it is in harmony with the original institution by our Lord. What was to be done in remembrance of him, was to be in a religious act: and, therefore, as the bread and the wine were significative of his body and of his blood; what could have been more natural, than to present them in such an act of devotion, as the emblems so attached to the great object represented? In the remains of the Roman Clement, we read expressly of the making of oblations, as a part of the office of the clergy; and surely no one will allege, that there was superstition in his day in the Roman Church. That sentiments of this sort were subsequently made the foundation of superstition, must be conceded. But if this argument have any weight, it goes to the extent of giving up the eucharist altogether; because the whole subject of it is of such a nature, as exposes it to the danger of abuse. Be it remembered, that the matter is not here contended for so far, as to affirm the oblatory words to be essential to the commemorative eating of bread and wine. They are, however, advocated, not only as defensible, but as impressive and edifying. It would be another thing, were the elements spoken of as comprehending more than what is discernible by our senses. But the contrary is taught by their being called--"These thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine:" and the words are after the oblation; which therefore could never have been conceived of, as effecting any change.
As to the other branch of the subject, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, not on ourselves only, for that is in the English service, but as sanctifying the bread and the wine to their religious application; it is no more than similar to what is done in our baptismal offices, when we implore God to "sanctify the element of water to the mystical washing away of sin." This has never been faulted; and yet, why it should be thought allowable in the one case, and superstitious in the other, would be difficult to be shown.
But while, it is hoped, that an improvement, adopted on such good grounds, and on such mature consideration, will be perpetual in this Church; there is deprecated the adoption of ideas, which have been sometimes expressed by individuals, of there being in the eucharist a sacrifice, an altar, and a priest, in the strict and proper meaning of the words; and taking the last word in the Jewish sense of it. That in England, every thing of this sort was designedly dropped at the Reformation, cannot be denied: The word "priest" is "presbuteroV;" with an English termination; and not the iereuV of the Jewish Church; and that it was so understood by the reformers, is evident from their Latin liturgy; which has always "presbyter," and not "sacerdos." As to "altar," we have not only "table" in its stead, throughout the rubricks; but it is well known, with what marked attention to the distinction, they who took the lead in that day changed the altars then existing, into tables. Bishop Ridley's conduct was especially conspicuous, relative to the subject, when he began his reformation of the matter, in the cathedral of the metropolis. Of "sacrifice" there is no mention, except in a sense evidently figurative; where, in the consecration prayer, in reference to the celebration then going on, we desire the acceptance of "this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving." In the time of Charles I., Archbishop Laud has been supposed to have manifested an inclination to resume what had been relinquished by the reformers. Not that it is here imagined to have been his intention--whatever his enemies urged to the effect--to accomplish a return of the Church of England to the Roman Catholick communion. Notwithstanding this, some innovations made by him, connected with the administration of the eucharist, are more in harmony with the errors of that Church, than with the doctrine of his own; and the said measures of the Archbishop are here thought to have been one of the principal causes of the temporary overthrow of the Church of England, which took place in his day; and of which he was himself a victim. But be these things as they may, that Church stands at present on its original foundation, as to the points stated. Our Church has taken them as there found; and it is to be hoped, that the purity of both, in respect to them, will be retained. From time to time, indeed, there have appeared in the English Church some respectable divines, who have manifested a leaning to the ancient errors. It has not, so far as is here known, been found on the Episcopal bench. Nevertheless, its having appeared in that Church, should make us the more jealous of it, if it should lift up its head among ourselves.
There would be a mistake in supposing, that in what has been said concerning sacrifice and altar, a censure is designed on the figurative use of the words, which may occasionally be made to the advantage of discourse, and without danger of misleading any. The word "priest," let it be again remarked, is the same as "presbyter:" although, whether it would not have been better, because more unequivocal, to have taken this word, the former being also used as the translation of "iereuV," and of "sacerdos" may be made a question.
There may be propriety in noticing further that the favourers of the theory here objected to justly find fault with the practice prevailing both in England and in America, of placing the bread and the wine on the sacramental table before the beginning of the service. This is contrary to the rubrick, which directs it to be placed there by the priest, immediately before the prayer for the Church militant. This must have been in imitation of the primitive Church; in which there was a prothesis or side table, for the previous reception of the elements. The priest's removing of them to the Lord's table was considered as an official act. It is not agreeable to the present writer's habits of thinking, to lay too much stress on matters of order; but as the provision now noticed was designed to be an act of devotion, although not accompanied by words, he wishes for the restoration of it, by the reducing of practice to the existing rule. This would also have the good effect of manifesting to those, if there be any, who cannot be complied with to the extent desired by them, that there is compliance, as far as good reason for it can be shown.
The design relative to the ordinary service is finished; and there is now a transition to the third department, comprehending what are called the Offices of the Church. It will not extend to a proof of the duties, to which the offices respectively appertain; but will be merely a suggesting of considerations, arising out of the existing circumstances1 of the Church.
The first offices, in the order of the Book of Common Prayer, are the Baptismal--the office for the publick baptism of infants; that for the private baptism of the same; and that for the baptism of adults. It is impossible to attend to the first two, without perceiving the inconsistency between the rubricks and the present universal practice of the clergy. According to the rubricks, there should be no private baptism except in the case of sickness, endangering the life of the child. Under such a circumstance, the rite is to be performed without the sign of the cross, and without the engagements of the sponsors; which are reserved to be made in Church, in the event of the recovery of the child. In the case of death, nothing essential will have been omitted. Now, there has pervaded both the Church of England and the Church in the United States, the practice of using in private houses the form for publick administration. This contrariety between and practice has, at the best, a very ill appearance: and it is inconceivable, how any ministers can excuse his share of the irregularity; except on the plea admitted in civil jurisprudence--and indeed not without reason--that universal neglect, not noticed by authority, is a virtual change of the institution. The plea can be of no weight, except on the supposition that the subject is a mere matter of order, and rests on human will; which is the case of publicity of baptism; although doubtless the most congenial with the character of the Christian Church, and with the practice of primitive antiquity.
Unless there should take place, generally, a more energetick exercise of discipline than that which now prevails, the adherence of any individual minister to this particular requisition, would have a very unpleasant effect. Parents would avail themselves of accidental opportunities, to have their children baptized by other than their proper pastors, which would show "the nakedness of the land," in the department of ecclesiastical discipline: for it is not probable, that there would be a prevention of this abuse, by presentations on the account of it, when many worse irregularities pass unnoticed. These statements have been gone into, as a ground for the advice to be now given--that if the minister perceive an opening for the restoring of publick baptism, as contemplated by the rubricks, it is an object worthy of his endeavour; but that if this cannot be effected, without the producing of a violation of order in other points, the remedy may be worse than the evil to which it is applied. If so, the remedying of the imperfection here spoken of had best be left to the day, which we may hope will come, when whatever is contrary to good morals or to good order will produce an exclusion from a membership of our Church. In the mean time, the best aid that can be brought by any individual minister to the preparing for so good an end, is in an addition made to the weight of ecclesiastical authority, by the soundness of his principles, by his literary attainments, and, above all, by his piety, and the integrity of his character in every way.
The next particular occurring concerning these offices, is the language in which the promises of the sponsors are expressed; and which are here referred to, in order to advertise the young minister of the difficulties which he will meet with, in the conceptions of many well disposed members of this Church, whose scruples he should accordingly be prepared to satisfy. In the first question addressed to the sponsor, it is said--"Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh; so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?" Although the words--"in the name of this child," are not repeated before each of the other questions, yet they are understood. Accordingly, the sponsors are put in the place of the child, who is supposed to answer in the inquiries, through them. Now, this is the circumstance which occasions the perplexity; there being an impossibility, it is said, for one person to answer for another, absolutely; and especially for one as yet incompetent to declare consent, in what is thus undertaken by substitution.
The impossibility is so unquestionable, that the circumstance should disprove the supposition of its having been the meaning of the compilers; which certainly ought to govern in the interpretation. They have stated what was really their design, in the subsequent charge; which shows, indeed, that the sponsors have taken on their consciences a weighty duty; yet not such a one as is either absurd or useless. Yet why--it may be asked--does the language of the preceding service put the sponsor in the place of the unconscious party answered for? It is precisely what is done by parents in various ways; when they accept for their children estates, attended by the performance of conditions; or when they entitle them to citizenship, exacting of them certain duties, to be discharged by them when they shall have become adult. There may not be any promissory words, on such occasions; yet the acts of the parents amount to the same thing. But what is the consequence of subsequent non-compliance of the child? Is it crime brought on the parent? Nothing like it; although a forfeiture on the part of the other, of what was to be held by such a tenure.
There seems no difficulty in apprehending this; and yet, for the want of its being properly explained, there is frequent hesitation as to an important duty. Whether the questions and the answers might not be made clearer to the apprehensions of ordinary people, and whether it would not be an improvement, this is not a proper opportunity to inquire. But there may be propriety in preparing a newly ordained minister for the difficulty. There is also a minor one, resulting from the use of the singular number, in the questions proposed to the sponsors; although the plural number is used in the address immediately preceding. The obvious solution of this is, that each sponsor answers for his or herself, instead of their answers being made in a combined capacity. The American Church has explained this matter, by a rubrick not found in the English Book of Common Prayer. This explicitness, however, has been lost on some ministers; who, to show how much better they understand the force of language, than either the English compilers or the conventions which revised the liturgy, address the sponsors in the plural number--"Do-ye, in the name of this child," &c. Nothing but a misunderstanding of the meaning of their own words can excuse such ministers from the imputation of intending to introduce a manifest corruption into the service. The distinction made by the gentlemen of the law, between a joint act and that which is undertaken jointly and severally, is founded in good sense. The former binds each man only to his reasonable proportion of the matter to be performed; while the latter binds every one of them to the whole. Like to this is the baptismal promise made by the sponsors, when they answer agreeably to the object contemplated in the service. But the promise is far short of such a sentiment, when it has been pared down by the innovation here complained of.
Some persons have found a stumbling-block in another matter, which pervades all our offices, of baptism. It is that which recognises the subject, as the regeneration required in Scripture. For, before the baptizing act, there is prayer for the benefit here spoken of: after the act, there is thanksgiving for the benefit bestowed; and the connexion between the inward grace and the outward sign, is recognised both before and after the act, in the address to the sponsors, and in that to the congregation. In the office for the baptism of adults, there is an explanation of the passage in the third chapter of the Gospel of St. John, relating to the interview of our Lord with Nicodemus. This is a prominent place of Scripture on the subject of regeneration; and the Church applies it directly to the instituted rite of baptism.
Doubtless, all this is inconsistent with the modern use of the term regeneration. But, on the other hand, it must be contended, that the mere circumstance of the necessity of looking to modern times for such a use of the word, is a presumptive proof of there being some material error to be covered by it. The phraseology of the Church, in this particular, is nothing but a continuation of that of all Christendom, until the compiling of the Liturgy, and for some time after. The celebrated Calvin expresses himself in language resembling that of the Church. And it is remarkable, that when there insinuated itself into the Church of England an attachment to the doctrine of Calvin, no offence was taken at the matter now in contemplation; which will not be found among the faults alleged by the early Puritans, against the establishment.
[Calvin's manner of expressing himself on the subject may he learned from the following specimens.--"The promise in which we have explained the virtue of the sign to be" (in circumcision and baptism) "is one in each, namely, the fatherly favour of God, remission of sins, and eternal life."--"Which (repentance and faith) although they are not formed in them," (viz. infants) "yet is the need of each hidden in them, by a secret operation of the spirit."--"Wherefore unless we throw a cloud over the beneficence of God, we are to offer to him our infants, to whom he has assigned a place among his friends and domesticks; that us, the members of his Church."--Instit. lib. iv. can. xvi. sect. 4 and 20.]
It is true, that at this very time there began to prevail in the Church of England, at last effecting a departure from her, some novel opinions, very inconsistent with the language applied to the subject of baptism; yet, so fast was this bound on the Church by custom--not merely that of the dark ages, but handed down from the earliest times--that no attempts were made to change it. The opinions alluded to may be reduced to two. One is, that of the final perseverance of the saints; which no one can consistently hold with baptismal regeneration. The other is, that baptized infants continue under the wrath of God, and liable to his judgments in another world, unless rescued by a regeneration brought about in adult years, or in the approach to them.
To accommodate to these prejudices, which were not thought of until the period of the Reformation, or perhaps not long before, among some of those who are called the school divines, would require a correction not only of the baptismal services, but of the whole system; in almost every department of which there is either a direct or a virtual denial of them. But if these services only were in question, it is to be hoped, that the present characteristick of them will be retained, as a protest against modern error. And the subject is here introduced, as furnishing an opportunity of admonishing the minister, that if, in the matters referred to, his instructions should be at variance with the services of the Church; it becomes him to consider, how such inconsistency can be reconciled with the promises recently made, by any explanation which shall be agreeable to integrity and truth. But if he should maintain what the Church conceives to be evangelical doctrine on the present subjects, the use of introducing them at this time, will be, to prepare him for the occasions probably to occur, of clearing her baptismal services from objection,
And this he cannot do, without an incidental proof of her adherence to the integrity of Christian doctrine generally.
There shall be made a few remarks, tending to sustain the seriousness of the occasions on which the baptismal services are used, and a due regard to the consequent obligations.
It sometimes happens, that when an infant is to be baptized, and there has been an invitation of family connexions to be present at the transaction, a degree of levity takes place, ill suited to the being assembled for a religious ordinance. The occasion, it is true, is of a cheerful complexion; and there is no design, in what is to be here said, to induce the minister to change it into a gloomy one. But. surely, there is a reverent behaviour, equally remote from the two extremes. That is the course which is here recommended: and when any thing is uttered, evidently expressive of the want of sense of religion on the mind; if the minister do not show himself hurt at the offence against the very foundation, on which he supposes himself to have been administering a divinely instituted ordinance; it is such a step towards giving up the cause into the hands of profaneness or of infidelity, as makes it too probable, that he would proceed to the extremity of abjuration, if there were eminent advantage to be gained, or considerable danger to be shunned by it.
Relatively to the baptism of adults, the intimation is to be given, that there is great need to fence it by the strictest care, as to the character and the sufficient information of the subjects of it. Under the religious circumstances of this country, there are not any considerable temptations, to a person's conforming to this rite of our holy religion, from any other than a conscientious motive. But without the prospect of gain, or for the gratifying of ambition, a man may be forward to put his hand to the plough, without having sufficiently estimated what the following of it requires. Religion is evidently more wounded by the apostacy of such a person, baptized at an adult age, than by that of one who had been baptized in infancy.
As to the measure of information to be required of an adult candidate for baptism, the opinion is not here entertained, that it should go to a great extent; examples to the contrary appearing in Scripture, as in the baptizing of Cornelius and his household, of the jailer and his household, and of the Ethiopian enuch. These persons, indeed, had been made sensible of recent exertions of Omnipotence, in the establishment of Christianity; and they were informed of the nature of it so far, as that they received its Divine Author, in the characters of their Saviour and their spiritual Lawgiver. In succeeding ages, the same conviction is necessary, although obtained from less sensible manifestations; and the conviction can hardly be possessed at the present day, without more knowledge of the contents of the Christian system, than existed in the minds of those early converts. It seems at least probable, that one cause of the rite of confirmation, was the ensuring of a consequent proficiency in knowledge; in the cases of persons who, with a very imperfect knowledge of its contents, and yet under full conviction of its heavenly origin, had been admitted of the body of the faithful. The very earliest ages are here spoken of: for when we come down to the fourth century, we find a long course of time and much pains dedicated to the preparing of persons in the character of catechumens for the rite of baptism.
There is another scruple, sometimes occurring to the minds of well meaning people, in the renouncing of "the pomps and the vanities of the world;" which they construe as intended to forbid many matters not criminal; and against which their consciences would have no scruple, any further than as it might arise from the promise exacted of them in this ordinance, relatively to the presented infant. The history of the promise will throw light on the meaning of it. When introduced into the Church, it appears from passages in several of the fathers, to have been especially intended against the Heathen shows. These were accompanied by idolatry; and, on this account, if there had been no other, could not have been attended by Christians, consistently with their profession. But besides the idolatry y there were much cruelty and lewdness exhibited on those occasions; and therefore, these being practised after the ceasing of the other, the pastors of the Church still cautioned the people against frequenting them. The renunciation being continued, points to whatever is immoral, and to nothing more. Any person hesitating at such a promise as this properly understood, is not either a fit subject of baptism, or a suitable sponsor for another. Some have even construed the promise, as renouncing those habits of dress which are suited to certain circumstances and states of life. It is impossible that this should have been intended, however contrary excess and vanity in dress to the Christian profession, even if there had been no such promise as that in question. The promise is a renunciation of every thing opposed to Christian morals. But for whatever comes not under this description the sponsor need not hesitate, on account of the language in which the promise is clothed.
The next of the offices of our Church, is her Catechism; which was evidently designed, principally, for persons baptized in infancy. It does not follow, however, that an adult should be admitted to baptism, without as much elementary information as is therein contained. By this, it is not meant, that the reciting of the Catechism by memory should be the test of the qualifications of an adult; because a person may be competent to such a recitation, and yet not to the satisfying of an inquiring minister, as to the requisite sufficiency. And on the other hand, a person may have the requisite information, and demonstrates it in discourse, without a recitation of the very words, in which the Church has clothed this compendium of Christian doctrine. But that, agreeably to the opinion already delivered, the Church looks more to the party's sincerity of belief, than to his or her extent of knowledge, is evident from the charge to the "chosen witnesses," to call on the party to be "rightly instructed in God's holy word."
When catechising was introduced into the Church, which must have been in the infancy of our holy religion, it was an exercise, that had no especial relation to children; and the instructions of it were probably less addressed to them than to persons of mature age. It must be evident, that in those days, when the great mass of the people were strangers to the art of reading, catechising--that is, the instructing by the way of question and answer, in the first principles of the faith--was a much more effectual way than preaching, of communicating them to the ignorant: and this, not only because of the form of the exercise, but because it was confined to the most necessary truths. However great the pub-lick benefit, achieved principally by the art of printing, of an ability to read in the great mass of the community; yet there has, resulted the disadvantage of reducing the learning of the Catechism to be a mere exercise for children. It would be no matter, as to the mere acquaintance with that body of doctrine, if all were taught to read, either in their infancy, or when they are advancing to maturity; and" if, whether taught to read or not, they were put into the way of being instructed and examined in the Catechism, which is possible.
Even at the time of the Reformation, there were doubtless a great proportion of the people of England--it may be presumed, indeed, the far greater number of them-strangers to letters. And hence it may be inferred, that when the rubrick requires of the minister to "instruct and examine" in the Catechism, it was intended, not only that he should propose questions and receive answers, but that, in regard to persons not taught to read, the instructor should repeat the words until sufficiently imprinted on the memories of the instructed, to be followed by them. It is true, that the rubricks speak only of "children, apprentices, and servants." But the fifty-ninth canon of the Church of England has the more general expression of--"youth and other ignorant persons." And besides, in a country in which all are contemplated, as born and brought up within the bosom of the Church, it was natural to specify that period only, which, if it were properly improved, would leave nothing to be done at any other, as to the matter in question.
That the Church intended her ministers to instruct in the way which has been defined, is here confidently believed. And it will appear to be necessarily attached to the subject, if we consider, that, on any other principle, the great mass of the people were left unprovided for, in the article of catechetical instruction. At present, there are comparatively few children who may not be prepared for examination in their Catechism, either by their masters or mistresses, or by their parents. But if, of those who present themselves, there should be any whom Providence has deprived of this advantage, it is clearly held, that the minister should supply the deficiency, however humble the employment thus assigned to him. The same applies to adults, willing to be instructed in the same way. It will, however, be difficult to procure the attendance of such; because of the prejudice, that the saying of Catechism is incumbent on children only." [The sentiments which hare been delivered are strengthened by the etymology of the word "Catechism," which signifies the instructing by sound.]
But there occurs the important question--Whether a minister has discharged his whole duty in the contemplated work of instruction and examination, when he has proposed the questions, and received the answers, in the Catechism. It is not undertaken to define at what limits instruction, generally considered, should stop: and on this point, something is held in reserve. But it is the opinion, that under the appropriate term of catechising, the Church means no more than the furbishing of the memory with the matter which the Catechism contains. The terms of the rubrick specify the instructing and the examining in this summary of Christian faith and duty, without a word relative to the proofs, or any other amplification of its doctrines. And another rubrick enjoins presentment for confirmation, at the attainment to a suitable age; on the condition of an ability to "say the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed, and the Ten Commandments;" and also, "to answer to the other questions of the Catechism." It would be an unjustifiable interpretation of this, were it construed to dispense with such religious information and impression, as may be made on the party's mind, of the nature of the ordinance in prospect. Still, in the retrospect to the catechetical department merely, the terms used by the Church prove her satisfied with the proficiency which has been stated.
Before further progress, let there be a caution against entertaining too low an apprehension of this proficiency. Persons living always under the blaze of Christian knowledge, and possessed of other advantages of a land illuminated by science, are apt to imagine, that we can make all this our own, by our native energy; and not to perceive, that without the aid of external instruction, a great proportion of mankind would be, in character, very little above the brutes. Now, in regard to those classes of society who labour incessantly for their subsistence, it will not be rash to affirm, that the instruction which they may acquire from the compendium called the Catechism, the particulars being deeply rooted in their memories, often called up to their recollection, and applied by an ordinary share of understanding to the various occasions of life, is likely to be a better guide to them than any knowledge which the uniformity of their pursuits is likely to permit to come to them from any other quarter. The remark, however, is perhaps less applicable to this country than to any part of Europe; because of the comparative ease of acquiring here a subsistence. But it applies in a degree; and besides, there are to be established general principles, which may be done, consistently with due regard to an accommodation to local peculiarities.
Besides the application of the subject to persons of the lower and the more laborious orders, it may further be affirmed, that there is great demand in the higher, for the literary information of the Catechism. Even in what is considered as the first society, it is not uncommon to bear remarks, which argue entire ignorance of the first principles of natural theology, and of the foundation of moral obligation. If you were to ask the persons to whom this applies, whether they acknowledge the being of a God, and a rule of moral duty; on these general points their answers would be in the affirmative. But in an application of the subjects in their respective lines of operation, they would manifest a degree of the want of information and of reflection; the first of which might have been furnished to them, and the latter made the work of their own minds, by the instrument which we call the Catechism; and which is probably very little in their eyes. Perhaps the effect might be produced, even if there were no more of it than the comprehensive answers concerning our duties to God and to our neighbour. So that there is much use in the very moderate requisitions, which may be drawn from the positive institutions of the Church, on the subject of catechising. Still, there recurs the inquiry--Can nothing be done towards the important object of the exercise, besides the furnishing of the memory with the prescribed answers to the questions? The answer is, that doubtless much may be done; and that it may be worthy of attention, in this place, to estimate the several expedients which have been adopted for the purpose.
Some English divines have recommended, that the young persons be furnished by the catechising minister, as he proceeds in the exercise, with, information additional to what is contained in the catechetical answers; and that they be afterwards examined by him on what they have been thus taught. This appears to have been sometimes practised in England and in America; but it has not been general in either. The objection occurring, is in the difficulty of accomplishing the undertaking. The answers are supposed to be not from mere memory, but accompanied by an exercise of the judgment. To obtain these from young persons, in the presence of casual listeners to the exercise, is more than there is reason to hope for, from any thing within the limits of experience; which would also lead to believe, that the answers given under such circumstances, must be insufficient tests of the respective acquirements of the answerers. This remark is grounded on the timidity of a considerable proportion of young persons; which is sometimes so great, as to make it difficult to obtain from them audibly, even what they have committed perfectly to memory. Still, the object being very good, if any clergyman see cause to hope to carry it into effect, it is not designed to throw any discouragement in his way.
Perhaps it has been from the being aware of the difficulty stated, that some parochial clergymen put into the hands of children additional questions and answers; and these sometimes accompanied by texts of Scripture, in evidence of the truths affirmed, both in the Catechism and in such its supplement. Now, the committing of the one or the other to memory, is not for immediate use, but for a guide in future life. It would therefore seem, that what is short, though comprehensive, is more likely than the same matter more dilated, to be so engrafted, as to leave an indelible impression of the intended truths; and with what is thus learned, other instruction, afterwards acquired, will happily combine; from whatever quarter it may come, and without a committing to memory of the precise words in which it may be clothed. In the species of enlarged exercise of the memory now commented on, there is certainly a use in the texts of Scripture comprehended; but whether they would not be best confined to the sustaining of the matter of the Catechism, may be made a question; without discouraging the enlargement here noticed, where it may be thought expedient. But independently on any such enlargement of the work of memory, it must be evident that catechising opens opportunities of such short remarks, as may, perhaps, make on youthful minds impressions never afterwards to be erased. Accordingly, occasion is taken to recommend this practice; and it will be rendered still more useful, if there can be put some familiar questions to the larger children; and answers received from them, in such a manner as is not calculated to intimidate; for if this should be the effect, there is no good to be expected.
There has been recommended--and on very respectable authority--the minister's taking occasion to explain, without a formal and written discourse, some portion of the exercise. This may certainly be made instrumental to edification: but, as is here suspected, not to that of the children, who will be too young to be profited; and who, it is probable, will hardly be attending to what is said; but to any parents or others who may choose to be present on such occasions. It is an error of a great proportion of the Christian world, that they affect to soar to the highest reach of speculation, and to dive into the depths of mystery, while they are not sufficiently informed of what lies on a level with every ordinary understanding--the obvious truths of Scripture, and the reasons on which its duties rest. That the error alluded to must be checked, and that an opposite usefully inquisitive spirit must be encouraged by what is here treated of, cannot but be evident.
The same idea is said to be carried much further by some religious communions; who require their ministers to discourse, on every afternoon of Sunday, on some part of their Catechism, and on that only. There is entertained no doubt of the wisdom of the regulation; but, on the contrary, the wish that it were introduced into this Church; with the reservation, however, that, being an innovation, it would not meet with difficulties here unforeseen.
It will be perceived, that the greater part of what has been advanced, is very much in the form of leaving the ordained minister to judge for himself, and according to circumstances, of the merits of the different matters which have been spoken of. There is, however, at least one matter, not to be left on so uncertain a foundation, and that is the duty indispensably lying on him, of giving an opportunity to all young and other uninformed persons, of being furnished with the measure of religious information contained in the Catechism. What are the means to be adopted by him to allure them, and their parents, guardians, and masters, to send them to the opportunity thus provided for them, must of course be submitted to his judgment. And what success shall attend his endeavours in this line, must be left, under God, to the Christian disposition of all concerned.
The office coming next in order to the Catechism, is Confirmation. The duty of the minister, as to this rite, is too plain to be mistaken. Whatever is the sense of the promises made by the sponsors at the baptism, the same the confirmed persons take on themselves in the succeeding ordinance. To instruct them to the extent of this, is of course the duty of the parochial minister; and if, in the exercise of this part of his office, it should be in his power, by a word spoken in due season, to make an impression on the youthful mind that shall not be lost in future life, it will not only be one of the best exercises of his ministerial calling, but also one of the evidences of the uses of the particular ordinance in contemplation.
It ought not to escape the notice of a minister, how much this Church differs from those societies of professing Christians, who exact evidence of a conversion subsequent to baptism. She knows of no such matter in preparing persons baptized in infancy for the rite of confirmation; but presumes them to have been made the children of God in the preceding rite. It would be a shameful use of this circumstance, were any minister, agreeably to an accusation laid in the very matter here treated of, to encourage the people to rest in forms; these having no effect on the life, except as a caution against gross immorality and indecorum. There is nothing of the kind in the ecclesiastical institutions of this Church; and she directs the attention of her members to the highest attainments, which can be comprehended under the idea of a renovation of the spirit; the principle of which is pledged in baptism; while whatever follows is calculated to call it forth to exercise.
There does not occur, on the present subject, more than one particular on which there seems likely to arise a doubt, in carrying the intentions of the Church into effect. The rubrick at the end of the service, specifies that "none shall be admitted to the communion until they be confirmed, or are willing and desirous to be confirmed." The Church evidently designed to declare, that, during the want of opportunity of attendance on the ordinance of confirmation, a devout person was not to be debarred from the consolations and the aids attendant on another holy ordinance, to which the first was commonly preparatory. Even in England, there must be frequent occasions of having recourse to the dispensation. The diocesses, indeed, do not comprehend, as here, great extents of country; so that the holding of a confirmation in each diocese triennially, connected with the established custom of calling out all the proper subjects of confirmation in the respective neighbourhoods, at as early ages as consists with the nature of the ordinance, would seem to provide sufficiently against the want of opportunity. Yet it frequently happens, that in consequence of the extreme age and the attendant infirmities of a bishop, some arrive at maturity before an opportunity presents itself. The question then is, whether a person of this description, in the meantime become a communicant, be required to attend at a succeeding occasion of confirmation.
It would seem that the words of the rubrick do not exact it. And what occasions the supposition, that the practice in England is agreeable to this sentiment is, that during the long space of time of the connexion with the English bishops, they never required the candidates for orders from 'this country, to submit to the rite of confirmation. They knew that there was no opportunity for it at home: and it does not appear on what principle the matter can have been dispensed with, except on the reasonable presumption, of what was indeed implied in the testimonials of the candidates, that they had been communicants: the preceding ordinance having been passed over, not from slight, but from necessity.
It may be not irrelevant to record the opinion of Archbishop Secker on the subject; especially as his memory has been much respected by our clergy; not only because of the general excellency of his character, but on account of the interest taken by him in the concerns of the churches in these States, while they were yet colonies of Great-Britain. Speaking of persons in the predicament here contemplated, he says--"There are not indeed all the sound reasons for the confirmation of such, as of others; nor hath the Church, I believe, commanded any thing about their case, as it might be thought unlikely to happen. But still, since it doth happen too frequently, that persons were not able, or have neglected to apply for this purpose; so, whenever they apply, as by doing it they express a desire to fulfil all righteousness, and may certainly receive benefit, both from the profession and the prayers appointed in the office, my judgment is, that they should not be rejected, but rather encouraged." [Vol. iv. p. 47.]
The next service is the solemnization of matrimony. In this, there are not only ecclesiastical but also civil laws to be regarded. The latter being different in different states, their bearing on the subject shall be treated of, only as they stand in this state. [Pennsylvania.]
If a clergyman should solemnize marriage under any legal impediment, he is liable to the very moderate fine of £50. What ought to be far more important to him than any fine which might have been imposed, he brings a stain on his character; and, so far as that of the Church is implicated in his, on her's also. But the worst consequence of all to him, is that it ought to be a burden on his conscience. It is a great oversight in the legislature, or rather, according to what has been learned from respectable authority, the effect of a mistaken opinion on the subject, that the laws do not inflict a punishment adequate to the offence. In England it is transportation: and if this should be construed by any, as derogatory to the clerical character, it is here rather believed to be intended with a directly opposite view. No reason can be given why the punishment should not be something both of loss and of disgrace, where the minister either knows of the impediment, or docs not take such means of information, as the nature of the case requires. In the case of young people in particular, the joining of them in marriage without the consent of their parents or guardians, there being no imposition to plead, or the imposition being such as is invited, by there being no demand of, proper testimony from proper persons, is an invasion of domestick rights, which ought to cover the doer of it with infamy. Accordingly every minister, recently ordained, should be admonished to avoid so great a crime and so great a scandal. Let him remember, that the only reason of introducing a religious service, to accompany a contract which, without it, would be both lawful and binding, is to give solemnity to the transaction; and that, therefor, when it is prostituted to the covering of illegality and of undutifulness, the baseness of the deed consists not only in an invasion of another's rights, but in a prostitution of all the holy solemnities of religious worship.
Sometimes an apology for such conduct is grounded on the loose footing on which marriage rests: the licenses issued by government being notoriously without the sanction of law, so that if a clergyman proceed on such an instrument, it does not acquit him of fault in an illegal marriage; and neither is the requiring of it exacted of him in a marriage unquestionably legal. Were the writer speaking on this point as a citizen, he would contend, that it is mistaken policy. But addressing himself to a clergyman, he says, that in this character there is no reason to complain. All that a clergyman can have a right to expect is, that in the religious society of which he is a minister, marriages celebrated by him agreeably to the rules of his Church, and not interfering with the civil rights of any member of society, shall be valid. Has the legislature interfered to forbid this? It will not be pretended. But for whose sake is there this authorized sufficiency of his marriages? Certainly it is not for his personal advantage, but in tenderness to the religious freedom of his society; Now, in that section of his society, which is more immediately under his pastoral charge, there is little probability that he will be deceived, into the celebrating of a clandestine marriage. Or, if there be use in any further scrutiny than his own, it may be provided for by the society, without legislative interference. In what way, then, would he be benefitted by a legal and legalizing license? It is, as solemnizing the marriages of persons of various descriptions, who may be unknown to him, until their appearance in this business. Now, it is not said, that he is to refuse such persons, if there should be offered to him sufficient evidence of their right to dispose of themselves in marriage. But it is contended, that if he avail himself of the privilege which the laws of his country indulge to him, he has no reason to complain of the condition of not invading the rights of others. He may reject, if he please, both the privilege and the condition attached to it. The matter would be otherwise, if the solemnizing of marriage within his communion were attended by dangers, which neither he nor they could guard against. They reasonably consider it as a part of their religious freedom, to conduct such a transaction under the auspices of the rites of their ecclesiastical system.
These sentiments are expressed in order to show how evidently inexcusable a clergyman is, who, in any instance, neglects the obvious means of information; much more, who keeps an open office for almost all comers: it being understood, either that no questions will be asked, or that the answers to them will be received, without the knowledge of the characters of those on whose testimony so important a transaction is to be bottomed. It is not here meant, that a clergyman is to go about in quest of evidence on the merits of the case before him. There would be a lessening of himself in so doing. The evidences of the competency of the parties to dispose of themselves should be brought to him; and, in failure of this, he should refuse. When the domestick peace of any of his fellow-citizens may be affected by his determination, it surely ought not to be made up on evidence, which no dealer would trust to, as security for payment for his wares.
It will be proper to apprize the minister of some requests, which are occasionally made by parties applying to be married, but which should be uniformly and positively rejected.
One--and that pre-eminently inadmissible--is the omission of the charge addressed to the consciences of the parties. Why should there be reluctance to the hearing of this, if there be no wound too tender to be touched by such a probe? The answer will probably be, that the solemnity attached to this part of the service, is too much for such a season of sensibility. But is there not the same objection against calling on God in prayer, or the giving of the benediction in his sacred name? There cannot be shown any difference in the two cases, except that there is a sentiment running through the charge, which may fall very heavily on the consciences of some persons, but which lights with entire harmlessness on the consciences of others. This is not intended to imply, that in all cases in which the charge is wished to be omitted, there is a consciousness of a prior engagement. In some requests to the effect here known to have been unsuccessfully made. there has been confident belief of the contrary. In these cases, the requests may be imputed simply to the desire, which is apt to possess the minds of some young persons, that, on these very interesting occasions, they may be indulged by a brevity not promiscuously granted, and were the service reduced statedly to two sentences, there would be the requests of some, that it might be reduced to one sentence, in regard to them. The result of the whole is, that the minister ought not, on any occasion, to dispense with the charge. He must have had very little intercourse with the world, if he have not seen reason to believe, that some young people make and break matrimonial engagements with a levity that is utterly inexcusable. If he indulge a few by the omission in question, from the confident persuasion that they are not implicated in former engagements, he must extend the indulgence to all who ask it, against whom he has no knowledge that they are pre-engaged, otherwise he offers insults. Thus he is drawn on to throw down one of the most important barriers against criminal connexions; which, no doubt, have often been prevented by the circumstance of the solemn appeal; which must also be made to Almighty God, for what they know to be contrary to truth. It is not often indeed, that either of the parties has shrunk from the question, when actually proposed; although even this has sometimes happened. But how often the anticipation of the question may have interfered to prevent a contemplated marriage, is more than any one can ascertain.
Another request occasionally made, is for the dispensing with a repetition of the words put into the mouths of the parties by the service; it being sufficient, as they think, lo assent by signs; or, at most, by the monosyllable--Yes. As there may be occasions, on which one of the parties may find some plausible pretence to countenance the allegation, that he or she did not understand the import of the words addressed to them; and as it is probable, that the requisition has been made for the very purpose of guarding against such abuse; the adhering to the requisition is important, independently on the circumstance of its being a part of the service. Doubtless in many marriages, probably in the greater number of them, there can hardly be contemplated the possibility of the evil here referred to. But for a reason already given, there cannot be different forms of service for different persons. Sometimes also it is requested, that the modesty of the bride may be spared by a performance of the service in almost entire darkness, there being but little light, and that from an adjoining room or an entry. Now, let it be asked--How can the minister, with a good conscience, record such a marriage, in a book expected to pass in evidence in a court of justice? Further, what reason is there to expect, that a book, understood to be so kept, would be admitted as evidence? And still farther, can a clergyman, if hereafter called on to prove the marriage, swear to a fact of which he has not had the evidence of any one of his senses? If people are so thoughtless as to commit their reputation, and the future interests of their families, to such hazards, a clergyman ought to be so far a better guardian of them, as not to injure them in the very act of discharging a sacred duty.
The same sentiment applies to another request, occasionally made, of being married without witnesses. There are varieties in human affairs, in which this would shake the validity of the transaction: and if a man and a woman can reconcile themselves to such a species of "Felo de se," there is no need that a clergyman should make himself accessory to the fact: and--let it be still added--independently on the circumstance of its being otherwise ordered by the Church.
There might he here brought forwards some very important questions on the subject of marriage; especially as concerns the degrees within which the connexion is allowable, and the just causes of divorce. But they are avoided; because, as they are matters which ought to come before some future General Convention, agreeably to the recommendation of a former body of that description, it is not wished to give a pledge which may possibly be an impediment to a future impartial judgment. But it will not be inconsistent with this caution, to mention what has been all along the opinion and the practice of the present speaker, in regard to the ecclesiastical institutions now existing. He considers all which existed before the American Revolution as continuing after it, until altered by competent authority. Whatever related to the jurisdiction of the mother country, whether civil or ecclesiastical, was repealed by the act of Providence, which severed the American Church from her jurisdiction. Since that event, every part of the system has been under review, with the single exception of the table which relates to marriage. During the continuance of this state of things, it is here thought that there should be adherence to the former regulations. But let it be further noted, that although the subject has not been acted on by any General Convention, in the form of canons: such a body have given their opinion in a resolution, that it is contrary to the law of God to join in marriage any person divorced for any other cause than that of adultery. The violation of this principle, by any clergyman possessed of a knowledge of the prohibiting circumstance of prior marriage, would be a virtual renunciation of Christianity. And he would do the same explicitly, if the changes of human policy should render it advantageous to him.
There shall be taken occasion to intimate the importance of the conventual provision, for the registering of every marriage. It exacts but little trouble to the clergyman; but may prove of the utmost importance to the rights and to the reputation of the marrying parties, as the present speaker has witnessed in a multitude of cases. He will so far look back to the former subject of baptism, as to remark, that the like importance, not indeed of reputation, but of pecuniary and of landed rights, attaches to that subject also in respect to registering. The want of a general civil provision, operating to the effect of registering, so far as marriages are concerned, will, it is here thought, be severely felt throughout the United States, at some future time.
Of the Visitation of the Sick. On this office there shall be made remarks, growing out of two parts of the service--The Exhortation and the Prayers.
The rubrick before the exhortation specifies, that the minister shall address the party, in that or the like form. As it sometimes happens that sick persons are harassed in their states of weakness, by the obtruding on them matters far wide of truth and soberness; it is to the purpose to mention, that the Church must have supposed all necessary and general topicks to have been handled, however briefly, in her prescribed address. Of consequence, what cannot find there a ground work, must be judged by her superfluous, or else she has essentially erred in respect to the topicks to be brought before her members; in those their states of life, which ought the most to make them the objects of her solicitude. It is not here alleged, that the minister is tied to the precise words of the exhortation. In this respect, a latitude is expressly given: And perhaps the sentiments in that instrument, may be introduced the more advantageously in the way of familiar conversation. Neither is it denied, that in such conversation, exigencies may require enlargements; in some cases on one, and in other cases on another of the topicks. All intended to be guarded against, is the idea, that the Church has been guilty of any material omission; which must be supplied by the superior wisdom of the officiating minister.
The office before us calls, above every other, for the preparation in contemplation of the passage of Scripture, in which the minister of the Gospel is compared to "an householder, who brings forth from his treasures things new and old." The spirit of the comparison is, in his being furnished with, and having ready to his call, all the topicks of edification which may be required by any of the various states of the human mind. And this variety will in no instances be so conspicuous, as in the scenes which sick beds present. When a clergyman sits down to prepare for the pulpit, he has generally an unlimited range of choice of subject: And if he is restricted on occasions comparatively few; still his subjects are to be stated in the points of view in which they concern mankind in general. It is otherwise, on a great proportion of the occasions, on which the ministry is needed by sick and dying persons; in whom there will often be found prejudices and weaknesses, not to be met but by the preparation which results from the contemplation of the truths of Scripture, not only as they are in themselves, hut in their bearings on the various operations of men's spirits. It is under difficulties of this sort that a clergyman will the most feel the advantage of having his mind stored with those texts of Scripture, which contradict error, or sustain their opposing truths; and those texts, which either shake the foundation of unreasonable presumption, or bear up the soul against the terrors of unreasonable despondency.
It would be endless to recite all the difficulties which occur in this department of the clerical profession. But there is one which is met with so often, and the sentiment on which it is grounded is so fruitful of distress, that it may be pertinently, and perhaps usefully mentioned on this occasion. It is, when the patient labours under the persuasion, that there is no safety except under an internal assurance, and consequent sensibility of the forgiveness of sin and future felicity. On the supposition that this expectation is agreeable to Gospel truth, there ought certainly to be an abandonment of the Episcopal Church. She has not given an intimation of it in any of her institutions; and the place where the want of it appears the most conspicuously of all, is in the preparation which she has made for the awful hour of approaching dissolution. She indeed avails herself of the crisis for the enforcing of the duty of repentance; but of the acceptance of it she knows no test besides the consciousness of sincerity within, and the declarations of the word of God without.
In speaking of the prayers of the present service, the principal motive is to make the acknowledgment, of the considering of the service as less perfect than the other services in this respect, that it has not provided for all the points which occasionally come into contemplation in such devotions. Of the defects which occur there shall be named a few, and those the most prominent. Although there is "a prayer for persons troubled in mind or in conscience," which is, indeed, an excellent one, for persons under an unusual degree of terror; yet there are gloomy and desponding states of mind, far short of this, and admitting of being adverted to very profitably. Again, there seems the want of a prayer accommodated to the extreme distress, sometimes visible in attendant connexions and friends. There is indeed "a prayer which may be said by the minister, in behalf of all present at the visitation." It is not in the liturgy of the Church of England, but was inserted, at the time of the review, from Bishop Taylor's Rule of Holy Living and Dying. It is an excellent prayer, but does not go to the points now in contemplation. Further, there are frequently favourable symptoms in the case of a sick person, worthy of being gratefully remembered in the solemnity; yet not so strong as to justify the composition called "A Thanksgiving for the Beginning of a Recovery:" which was also taken from Bishop Taylor. So that although this office seems to have been improved; yet, on the supposition of there being still room for improvement, it is thought not contrary to good order, for a minister to add something of his own, or from approved authors, suited to the occasional circumstances which have been mentioned; or to any others which may occur. And he is advised to be prepared for such circumstances, by occasionally reflecting on the variety of them, into which he may come unexpectedly.
There ought not to be finished these remarks, without something said to a question of great practical importance. That a minister, when applied to, is bound in duty to visit a sick parishioner, none doubt. But the question is--whether the former should repair to the patient uninvited. On an examination of the institutions of the Church, there is found no injunction on him to this effect. On repairing to the higher authority of Scripture, there is found the precept--"If any be sick among you, let him send for the elders of the Church;" but none to the elders to go unsent for. If personal humiliation only were involved in the offer and the rejection of religious aid; a minister, having his heart much engaged in the full discharge of evangelical duty, might be laudably disposed to make great sacrifices, for the satisfying of his conscience as to the duty here the subject But the truth is--and there might be produced cases in proof of the assertion--that he would be in danger of lowering, in this way, the respectability of the ministry itself. If there be any cause of hesitation in the matter, it must evidently be much increased, by a conjunction of the labours of different ministers, in the service of the same flock; because, in such a case there maybe some circumstance rendering the ministry of one of them preferable to the patient, without any implied undervaluing of the other.
Accordingly, there is not seen cause to state it as a duty on a newly ordained minister to make his way, welcome or unwelcome, into the sick room of a parishioner. But if it be known to him, from conversation with the parishioner when in health, that he conceives of there being a propriety in such visits in the time of sickness, advantage should be taken of such a circumstance.
Besides this, there will occasionally occur, in conversation with various friends and connexions of the sick, opportunities of insinuating how readily any proposal of such an intercourse would be complied with. If it should seem, that there is entertained too low an idea of clerical duty in the present instance, let the question occur--Why the patient or his friends should be more desirous of a spontaneous, than of a requested visit from the minister? It should be recollected, that, in a great variety of cases, he will be ignorant of there being any such occasion for his services: and if, in any particular case, his knowledge of the occasion should be ascertained, this is irrelevant; because the matter in quest of is a general rule. Still, the question remains--Why a spontaneous visit, or else none? There can he but one reason---the maintaining of the appearance of the party's having merely submitted to a visitation, which a portion of society will be sure to pronounce superfluous and superstitious; and perhaps make a theme of ridicule, in the event of a recovery. Is the theory of the pastoral duty to be accommodated to so corrupt a prejudice? It is thought otherwise. Above all, the ready, punctual, and strict compliance with the duty, when an opportunity for it has been given, ought to demonstrate, that if the minister does not visit in all cases, it is not in any case from indisposition to the duty on his part.
The Communion of the Sick. The only remark to be made under this office, relates to a difficulty found in a strict adherence to the rubrick, which requires two at least to communicate with the minister and the sick person. The rubrick is the same with that in the Church of England; except, that for "three, or two at the least," there has been taken the latter part of the alternative only. Now, in England, where there is, within a very small compass, the whole congregation of which the sick person is a member; there can hardly be much difficulty in obtaining two communicants to join with a sick brother or sister in the eucharistick sacrifice. But it is otherwise in this country; so that, very often, in a case of sickness which may soon terminate in death, either there must be a dispensation with the required number, or the patient must be deprived of the consolations of the ordinance. In such an extremity it would seem, that of two duties, the more important is not dispensed with, by the impossibility of complying with the other. The latitude thus pleaded for, is agreeable to the letter, as well as to the spirit of the requisitions. The provision for there being two at least, is indeed mandatory; and therefore ought to be attended to. But it is not said, that, in case of failure to obtain them, the sacrament is to be refused. The blame, if there be any, must be in remissness as to the first particular. And this is especially incumbent on the sick and their friends, to whom the command should be considered as addressed. It is so far incumbent on the minister also, as that he should remind the people of their duty. But it is not perceived, that he should withhold the ordinance, in punishment for their delinquency; and much less, when he is satisfied that they have done their endeavours without success;
The Burial of the Dead. The improvement made by the American Church in this department, has, it is trusted, left no plausible ground of objection against the service. In particular, it is so devested of all reference to the state of the deceased person, that no scandal of his life need occasion scruple in the minister, or disgust in the attendants on the solemnity. On this account, some have wondered at the prohibition of its being said at the funeral of an unbaptized adult. There is not here seen any good reason for the prohibition; yet, it is in the rubrick, and should be complied with, on its being duly certified to the minister, that the person died unbaptized. If the enforcing of the exception, by an inquisition into the circumstances of each case, be thought by any to have a tendency to increase an attention to the rite of baptism, the means are not here thought suited to the end.
But there is another prohibition--that of not reading the service over persons who have laid violent hands on themselves. Here, then, the remark applies as before, that there is no reference to the state of the party: and the consequence of the remark may seem to be the same. But the rule ought to be continued in this instance, on another ground--the maintaining of privacy and the absence of parade, with which families have hitherto thought it the most suitable to deposite the remains of such, their unfortunate members. Far be the thought of wishing to extend to this country those severe laws which, in other countries, revenge on the poor tenement of clay the last misdeed of its deluded inhabitant. But, surely, decorum and good sense will declare in favour of the present practice, of a decent sepulture; without any other than the most necessary attendance.
"The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth," although standing a distinct service in the American liturgy, as in the English, may yet be reduced to the thanksgiving prayer contained in it; which, for convenience) stands among the other occasional prayers and thanksgivings, after the litany. In this country, practice has generally put the subject on a footing with occasions of recovery from sickness, and other signal mercies received.
"Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea," are certainly a very proper addition to the liturgy; but, in this country, are not likely to come within the sphere of the ministry, in many instances. And when the occasion for it may happen, there does not seem likely to arise any difficulty in the discharge of the duty.
"A Form of Prayer for the Visitation of Prisoners," was taken by the Convention from the Irish editions of the Book of Common Prayer. The form had been established by the viceroyalty of Ireland, with the approbation of the prelates of that country, and was, no doubt, composed by them; but was unknown to the English book, until the late union of the two countries, under an imperial parliament. It is certainly a valuable addition to the English liturgy and to the American. Perhaps there are no occasions so trying to the feelings of a clergyman, as those on which he is called to administer instruction or consolation to persons in the unhappy predicament contemplated; and especially to those whose lives are to be the forfeits of their crimes. There cannot be any necessity of proving to a Christian minister, the duty of making such sacrifices of feeling to calls so awful. But there may be use in intimating to him the two extremes, which he should be careful to avoid. They are, on the one hand, the so limiting of the mercies of God, as to withhold the assurance of them, to all who come to him in repentance and faith; and, on the other hand, the so making of present feeling an infallible test of sincerity, as if there could be, under the circumstances supposed, an equal degree of confidence in it, with that which may accompany a long perseverance in piety and virtue, amidst the blandishments of the world, and without the prospect of death immediately before the eyes. There have been known instances of persons under the sentence of the law, very rapidly exalted in the estimation of their instructors, from the character of hackneyed sinners into that of experienced saints. And of these, there have been known some, who, being unexpectedly pardoned, have undergone a contrary change as speedily as they made the former. No more shall be here said, because a correct knowledge of the Scripture scheme of salvation, will not permit a minister to err materially in this particular.
The last of the publick offices, is that compiled by the American Convention, called, "A Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the Fruits of the Earth, and all the other Blessings of his merciful Providence." A minister can hardly err in the use of it: and the utility of the appointment is so obvious, that one would hope there can be no occasion to convince him of the duty of persuading to an attendance on it, as far as may be in his power. As the appointment contemplates not only gratitude for the fruits of the earth, but publick mercies generally; and, of course, these taken in connexion with whatever drawbacks there may be of publick calamity; a minister may find himself invited by his subject, to say something on the civil state of his country. Whenever this happens, let him remember, that he should carefully consider every step which takes him on such a ground. Civil duties, such as they are confessedly bound on men by the very nature of the social state, and such as they are enjoined in Scripture, do not come improperly, if not too often, from the pulpit. But when these subjects are dilated on after such a manner as to involve a discussion of party-politicks, there cannot be a more effectual way of making the pulpit an engine for the exciting and for the inflaming of those passions, which the discourses delivered in it ought to have a tendency to prevent and to allay. It is universally confessed, that divine worship and its attendant duties have a very happy effect, in the line which has been specified. But the Convention of this Church will have erred greatly, if the only day of the year which has been set apart by their appointment, should be found to have a counteracting effect, to that of all the Sundays, and all the other holidays of the calendar.
To the publick offices, there has been added--"Forms of Prayers to be used in Families." Concerning these, there is nothing to be here said, except to express the sorrow, that it is a species of duty so little attended to in domestick arrangement; and the trust, that there may be expected a counteracting good example, at least in the families of the clergy. In no line does there occur any considerable evil, without its involving of additional evils in its train. It is generally acknowledged as a consequence of publick prosperity, that too great a proportion of the time of the people is spent in dissipation. Even the circumstance of the interference of this with the regularity of hours--setting aside the indisposing effect on inclination--has a tendency to make family prayer an incumbrance. Here is an argument, which should influence a minister to promote, as much as in him lies, habits which have no alliance with dissipation; by the doing of which, he will be promoting domestick comforts, even considered independently on religion. It cannot, however, but be believed, that such comforts admit of great increase from those religious observances, which bring into view all the sanctions, whereby the rights and the duties of domestick relations are sustained.
Although the third department of this address is finished; there may be use in briefly adding a few articles of advice, in regard to a minister's social and domestick intercourse with his flock.
In the first place, let him be impressed by the sentiment, that his visits to the individual families of his congregation had better be spared, than be such as shall encourage the opinion, that his mind is either frivolous, or more ardent in the pursuit of some object wide of the purposes of his vocation, than on these. It is not meant to suggest, that he is to abstain from all discourse concerning the matters of worldly interest, which, from time to time, come forward in succession to engage the attention of the publick. The meaning is, that they should not be found to correspond with any favourite passions, or any too lively sensibilities of his own; that when the conversation can easily be directed towards edifying subjects, the opportunity should be improved, and especially when the opportunity is given by those with whom he converses; the avoiding of it at such a time being an evident abandonment of pastoral duty. Perhaps it may be the opinion of some, that the pastoral visitation of a family should be with all the solemnity of authority, and with the professed design of inquiring into their states of mind; and even into domestick government in reference to religious concerns. It must be evident to those who know the state of the Church, that the far greater number of its families would not submit to such an investigation. If it be indeed a duty, resulting from their relation to the clergy, the latter ought to insist on its being carried into effect; and, in case of resistance, to shake off the dust of their feet, abandoning the specifick charges. But the giver of these remarks is far from being convinced, that it is a duty. In the character of a member of a congregation, he would not submit to it; because it is an exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the domestick, which is not enjoined either in Scripture or in the institutions of this Church. And as to any uses supposed to result from it, they are more than counterbalanced by an undue ministerial ascendancy, very liable to abuse. None doubt, that the Roman Catholick practice of auricular confession is occasionally applied to beneficial purposes; yet, Protestants consider the danger of its being horribly misapplied, an argument in addition to that of its being unrequired. Of the two practices, the latter seems the least alarming in this respect, that it is the most subject to systematick rule; while the other gives the greater room for the caprice of the individual minister. But, in contrariety to both of the practices, it is here thought, that, for the good to be done by the clerical order in this line of duty, their only arms are those of argument and persuasion, aided by the opinion which they can impress of their sincerity, and of their personal characters in all respects. Doubtless there is in this an additional motive, not only to correct conduct, but to such a state of mind, as will best enable them to conciliate to duties to which they have not a power to command.
In the Commentary on the Questions in the Services for the Ordaining of Deacons and Priests, there was pressed the point, that a clergyman should be careful to consider and to show himself the pastor of the whole flock, and not of a party among them, supposed to be ¤specially attached to his interests. The same sentiment may now be properly applied against the contemplated fault, as it respects the danger of his being subjected to the charge of pride. Perhaps there is no fault, of which a clergyman is so liable to be accused. It has often happened within the speaker's knowledge, in instances in which, to the best of his judgment, there was no ground for the allegation. Probably it has been sometimes the result of a clergyman's supposing, that a reserved or a stately carriage is congenial with the dignity of his vocation. In this he is mistaken; because that dignity may be brought into an alliance with more substantial causes of personal respectability, and such as are entirely consistent with conciliating manners. But when the prejudice is occasioned by a difference of demeanour towards the rich, and towards the poor; and especially by his avoiding of all society, except of the former; it is certainly a just cause of disesteem. It is doubted, however, whether this be justly called pride; and whether it be not rather a trait of the character of a sycophant. Even in what may reasonably be considered as offence offered, there should be care to guard against confounding indignity towards the person, with indignity offered to the profession: For it is proper to be aware of the infirmity of nature, which may tempt to the confounding of the two species of offence. If the question be concerning the degree of forbearance under evident personal offence; it must be perceived, that the precepts of Christian humility exact heavy sacrifices in this particular. And yet this sentiment is not to be extended so far, as to forbid sensibility to the injury; or even to condemn the manifesting of the sensibility in the deportment. But it is much the best, that this should be manifested principally in reserve; and in avoiding, as much as may be, future exposure to the evil: this however to be without the harbouring of hostility in the heart; but, on the contrary, to be made consistent with the being on such a footing with the party, as to be ready and likely to be looked to by him for pastoral services to himself, or to those under his direction and control. On any other principle than that here stated, every dispute of a minister with a parishioner--which, be it remembered, may take place with rectitude of intention in them both--is in danger of cutting off such a parishioner and his family from all spiritual benefit, otherwise to be expected from their pastor.
There was also, in the preceding Commentary some advice against engaging in the broils of political party. It may be of use to extend the sentiment to another species of party--that which is the result of the contentions between families, who are members of the same communion. A minister may be expected to engage on the one side or on the other, as a sacrifice for services rendered, or for attentions shown. Gratitude is both amiable in itself, and is a duty; but cannot exact a return by the commission of sin. Like other duties, it has its bounds; and within the limits which have been described, it has no call to come. To the entering into the quarrels of people, and to the being made an instrument of their passions, there is no obligation on any man; and least of all can there be the pretence of it on a clergyman; because of its unfitting of him in regard to a portion of his flock, not only for pastoral duty generally, but especially for that branch of it which may enable him to heal a breach when the passion causing it has begun to cool. If he judge it not likely to be of use to intrude as the composer of differences; let him not disqualify himself for being resorted to in so respectable a character, by being a party where, if he have any thing of the spirit of his profession, he would much rather be a mediator.
Questions may arise concerning the parochial arrangements of a congregation, and especially relative to their management of their property and pecuniary concerns. In matters of small moment, a minister had best take no part. In those of deeper interest, he had best deliver his sentiments in proper time and place, but with moderation. By this he may happen to prevent much of that kind of imprudence, which is consistent with the best intentions. And the weight of his advice will always be the greater, from the circumstance of his being sparing of his interference. In such cases, let him take especial care, not to treat an opponent of his opinion, as an enemy of his person. Instances might be here mentioned, of as complete despotism in this department, as ever was witnessed on a throne.
Hence, some have rashly concluded, that it is best to deny to the minister of a parish all share in the economy of their pecuniary concerns. This is an error; because it would, in general,be an exclusion of the person who would be the more likely to advise well, from his being better informed than others, in management of this sort. If he should attempt to play the master, it is hard indeed, if there be no member of the congregation hardy enough to resist his usurpation. But if this have happened--which is indeed the case in some instances--it cannot be a ground on which to build a position, which would operate unfavourably in general.
Every clergyman--perhaps it may be said, every man in the line of his profession--is liable to unreasonable requests. In this particular, however, there are probably greater sacrifices exacted of a clergyman, than of any other man; if for no other reason, for that of "becoming all things to all men, so as by any means to gain some." Still, this is a duty which has its limits; only, when refusal is bottomed on unreasonableness simply, let it be softened as much as possible, by graciousness of manner, some requests also will be preferred, tending to dispense with the duties laid on the minister by the Church, and ratified by his voluntary promise. It is certainly very indelicate in any lay-gentleman to attempt such a thing as this; relying for success in it on his personal character, and perhaps consequence given to him by his wealth. Let graciousness of manner not be withheld, even here; but let it be accompanied by such firmness, as is calculated to render the expectation desperate, and to prevent the like of it in future.
Let it not be thought a departing from subjects of the greatest magnitude, to something of less importance, when an exhortation is here given to a punctual compliance with appointments: for, in truth, there is no duty which can be discharged properly, without this circumstance attached to it. Were the present speaker to begin life anew, one of the most indispensable maxims of his conduct would be, to avoid, as much as possible, the being associated on any serious business) or the having of stated social intercourse, of any sort, with persons habitually destitute of punctuality. On a retrospect of the past, he is obliged to impute to this cause, the misspending of a great proportion of his time. The means here recommended for the avoiding of the like, would often subject a man to the charge of rudeness; but if he can accomplish it with firmness, and without passion, he will reap the benefit, without losing any friendships which it can be desirable to retain It is surprising, that this subject is so often contemplated, without notice of its connexion with moral principles: for besides the violation of the law of truth involved in the delinquency, a man has no more right to deprive his neighbour of the use of his time, than of any thing else which he calls his own. And of him who will be unjust in this particular, how shall it be known that he will be sparing in any other, should temptation offer? A gentleman, long since deceased, who filled an high station in the civil line, and was a man of good understanding, had a rather severe saying on the present subject. It was--"He who breaks an appointment would pick a pocket." The present adviser will not carry the matter quite so far, but he can truly affirm, that he has seldom been acquainted with an habitual offender in this way, of whom, if his other habits of life were known, there were not perceived some kindred deviations from the straight line of moral principle.
At any rate, it must be visible to all who have to transact with such persons any business that concerns the Church, or charity, or civil policy, that they render no services sufficient to counterbalance the disservice, resulting from the want of punctual regard to their engagements. In support of this sentiment, there shall be here advantage taken of a great name; the bearer of which was not more remarkable for any of his good qualities, than for his discernment of the characters of men, and for a sound judgment in matters of ordinary practice. When General Washington was at the head of the government of the United States, the present speaker was informed by a gentleman who was one of his official counsellors, that in the discussion of characters, with a view to the filling of publick offices, if it appeared of any person, that he was known to be deficient in punctuality, it was a maxim with the President, that this unfitted for the office in question, whatever fitness in other points the party might be possessed of.
There having been directed against one great fault, the law of moral obligation, it shall be applied to another, which, like the preceding, is not seen often enough in such an association. What is here meant, is indiscretion. That the best of men may fall into this from mere frailty; and farther, that some, from constitutional impetuosity, or absence of mind, may be indiscreet without moral turpitude, is here allowed. The whole intended to be maintained is, that much of what passes under the names of indiscretion and imprudence, is sometimes passion, and at other times vanity; so that, when originating in these, it would be prevented by a proper regimen of the party's mind. That frequent acts of indiscretion, whatever be its cause, lower a clergyman in the eye of the world, will not be doubted. The world would be unreasonably severe, in not making allowance for the infirmities of natural character. But in every question of this sort, between society and the individual, let a distinction be made between infirmity and a faulty habit of mind. In very early life, the speaker knew a clergyman, with whom it was said to be a favourite maxim--"In the name of God, what has a Gospel minister to do with prudence?" The same clergyman was remarkable for his imprudences, and as much so for violence of temper. Had this submitted to the precepts of Gospel meekness, it is probable, that there would have been an end of the indiscretions, which at last alienated from him all his friends.
In looking back on the whole of this exercise, occasion is taken to add, that one benefit hoped to result from it, is the setting strongly before the mind of a newly ordained minister--although he may be expected to have satisfied himself of the truth of the proposition, independently on what has been now laid before him--that his duties are not limited to the pulpit and the desk; but that, in addition to these, he has daily duties, amounting to what would be reckoned, in any other vocation, a full employment of the agent's time. Very different ideas must be entertained by any minister, who supposes that his flock may dispense with his services to such an extent, as does not interfere with the duties of Sunday. If they are not wanted at other times, it is because they are not worth the having at anytime. It is contrary to all propriety, when ministerial duty is so far mistaken, as that in the language held relatively to the settling and the employing of a minister, he is said to give such a proportion of his time to one congregation, and such a proportion of it to another; there seeming to be the presumption, that the only time actively devoted to the ministry, are the hours spent in preaching and publick prayer. If these ideas were correct, there would be propriety in referring the clergy to some secular mean of helping to their subsistence; because idleness, which is odious in any description of persons, must be peculiarly so in them. At present, their having of recourse to such means is merely held to be justifiable, on the score of hard necessity. But in the case supposed, it would be in itself fit and reasonable; although certainly an acquittal of a congregation, from the obligation of supporting the burden of their pastor's entire maintenance. It may be presumed, however, that all such ideas are foreign to the genius of the profession; and that the Church speaks wisely, when, in the exhortation in the Ordination Service, she warns the person to be ordained to "set aside, as much as he may, all worldly cares and studies." The principles of the present adviser relatively to the subject, are not severe: and he wishes never to see a minister's bodily labours of such extent, as to prevent his dedicating of a considerable proportion of his time to the cultivation of sacred literature, and of other literature also, in connexion with, and for the advancement of that his especial object. But let a parochial clergyman look at the employments of secular life; and if his studies and his activity in his ministry, combined, do not occupy hip at least as much as men are ordinarily occupied in the lines to which they are respectively appropriated; let him be assured, that he cannot be living in a compliance with the promises which he made at his ordination: promises, pledging to an habitual employment, which would have been obligatory, if no such precise security had been exacted of him.
There is now submitted every article of preceding advice, to the test of what an ordained person must suppose will be his sense of it, when there shall remain nothing that concerns his ministry, except a retrospect of his ministerial conduct, together with a prospect of the effect which it is to have on his condition in a future state of being. And With the hope, that what has been aid will be blessed to the salutary end of adding to his consolations at that important crisis, the whole shall be concluded with wishes in favour of the newly ordained minister [or ministers]; and with prayers for his [or their] success in his [or their] holy calling, and for all the satisfactions which can be attached to it.