RECIPROCAL RELATIONS OF PREACHER AND HEARER.
The orator is not an isolated person, but one who stands in living sensitive rapport with an auditory, and therefore the discussion of the subject of Eloquence cannot be regarded as complete, without some account of the mutual relations of the parties. And there is more need of this exposition in reference to sacred, than to secular oratory, because, one whole side of the message which the Christian herald carries to man, is unwelcome. He must preach the condemning law, and present the severe aspects of truth. This renders it more difficult for him, to establish a harmonious relation between himself and his audience, than it is for the secular orator. The difficulty in the case will be most easily overcome, if both speaker and hearer have a clear understanding of the attitude, which each is morally bound to take towards the other. "Preach the preaching that I bid thee," is God's explicit command to the herald. "Take heed how ye hear," is His solemn message to the congregation. Both parties must hear the message, and endeavor to come into right relations to each other, if they would receive the Divine blessing. "For," says Bichard Baxter, "we bring not sermons to church, as we do a corpse for a burial. If there be life in them, and life in the hearers, the connaturality will cause such an amicable closure, that through the reception, retention, and operation of the soul, they will be the immortal seed of a life everlasting."1 This passage, from one of the most fervid and effective of preachers, gives the clue to Christian eloquence. Life in the preacher, and life in the hearer, —vitality upon both sides,—this, under God, is the open secret of successful speech.
For, the relation which properly exists between the Christian preacher, and the Christian hearer, is a reciprocal one, or that of action and reaction. Yet it is too commonly supposed, that eloquence depends solely upon the speaker; that the hearer ia only a passive subject, and, as such, is merely to absorb into himself a mighty and powerful influence, that flows out from the soul of the orator, who, alone, is the active and passionate agent in the process. It will be found, however, upon closer examination, that eloquence, in its highest forms and effects, is a joint product of two factors; of an eloquent speaker, and an eloquent hearer. Burning words presuppose some fuel in the souls to
• Baxter: Sermon on Christ's absolute dominion. (Preface.)
whom they are addressed. The thrill of the orator, however exquisite, cannot traverse a torpid or paralyzed nerve, in the auditor. It is necessary, therefore, as all the rhetoricians have said, in order to the highest effect of human speech, that the auditor be in a state of preparation and recipiency; that there be an answering chord, in the mass of minds, before whom the single solitary individual comes forth, with words of warning or of consolation, of terror or of joy.
It follows, consequently, that if there be a true tone in preaching, there is also a true temper in hearing. If it is incumbent upon the,sacred ministry, to train itself to a certain style of thinking and utterance, it is equally incumbent upon the sacred auditory, to school itself into the correspond-' ing mood; so that its mental attitude, its pre-judgments, its intellectual convictions, its well-weighed fears and forebodings, shall all be, as it were, a fluid sea, along which the surging mind of the public teacher shall roll its billows. What, then, ia the true tone in preaching, and what is the true temper in hearing, religious truth? t The Divine interrogatory, "Is not my word like as a fire?"1 suggests the true tone, which should at all times characterize public religious address to the natural man; and the decided utterance of the Psalmist, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a
1 Jeremiah xxiii. 29.
kindness,"1 on the other hand, indicates the temper which the public mind should maintain, in reference to such a species of address. From the voice of God, speaking through the most shrinking, yet the most impassioned of his prophets; from the voice of God, emitted from the deepest, clearest, widest religious experience under the old economy, we would get our answer. The purpose, then, of this chapter will be to specify, in the first place, some distinctively Biblical views of truth, that are exceedingly intense in their quality, and penetrating in their influence, and should, therefore, enter as constituent elements into preaching; and, in the second place, to indicate the proper attitude of the popular mind, towards such preaching.
I. The prophet Jeremiah, in the well-known interrogatory to which we have alluded, directs attention to those elements in Revelation, which are adapted to produce a keen and pungent sensation, like fire, whenever they are brought into contact with the individual or the general mind. Just in proportion, consequently, as public address upon religious themes emits this subtle and penetrating radiance, because the preacher has inhaled the vehement and fiery temper of the Scriptures, respecting a certain class of subjects, will it speak to men with an emphasis that will startle them, and hinder them from sleep.
1 Psalm cxli. 5.
1. Commencing the analysis, then, we find these elements of force and of fire, in the Biblical representation of God as an emotional person, or, in Scripture phrase, as the " living God.''
And here, we shall pass by all those more general aspects of the Divine personality, which have been abundantly brought to view, in the recent and still existing contest between theism and pantheism, and confine ourselves to a notice of those more specific qualities, which have been somewhat overlooked in this controversy, and which constitute the core, and life, of the personal character of God. For, the Biblical representation of the Deity not merely excludes all those conceptions of him, which convert him into a Gnostic abyss, and place him in such unrevealed depths, that he ceases to be an object of either love or fear, but it clothes him with what may be called individuality of emotion, or feeling. Revelation is not content with that inadequate and frigid form of theism, that deism, which merely asserts the Divine existence and unity, with the fewest predicates possible, but it enunciates the whole plenitude of the Divine Nature, upon the side of the affections, as well as of the understanding. When the Bible denominates the Supreme Being the "living God," it has in view that blending of thought with emotion, that fusion of intellect with feeling, which renders the Divine Essence a throbbing centre of self-consciousness. For, subtract emotion from the Godhead, and there remains merely an abstract system of laws and truths. Subtract the intellect, and there remains the mystic and dreamy deity of sentimentalism. In the Scriptures, we find the union of both elements. According to the Bible, God possesses emotions. He loves, and he abhors. The Old and New Testaments are vivid as li^htnin^, with the feelino.s of
O O' O
the Deity. And these feelings flash out in the direct, unambiguous statement of the Psalmist: "God loveth the righteous; God is angry with the wicked every day;" in the winning words of St. John, "God is love," and in the terrible accents of St. Paul, "Our God is a consuming fire." Complacency and displeasure, then, are the two'specific characteristics, in which reside all the vitality of the doctrine that God is personal. These are the most purely individual qualities that can be conceived of. They are continually attributed to the Supreme Being, in the Scriptures, and every rational spirit is represented as destined forever to feel the impression of the one, or the other, of them, according as its own inward appetences and adaptations shall be. While, therefore, the other truths that enter into Christian theism are to be stated, and defended, in the great debate, the philosopher and theologian must look with a lynx's eye, at these emotional elements in the Divine Nature. For these, so to speak, are the living points of contact between the Infinite and Finite; and that theory of the Godhead which rejects them, or omits them, or blunts them, will, in the end, itself succumb to naturalism and pantheism.
There are no two positions in Revelation more unqualified and categorical, than that" God is love," and that " God is a consuming fire." Either one of these affirmations is as true as the other; and, therefore, the complete unmutilated idea of the Deity must comprehend both the love, and the displeasure, in their harmony and reciprocal relations. Both of these feelings are equally necessary to personality. A being who cannot love, is impersonal; and so is a being who cannot abhor. Torpor in one direction implies torpor in the other. "He who loves the good," argued Lactantius fifteen centuries ago, "by this very fact, hates the evil; and he^who does not hate the evil, does not love the good; because, the love of goodness flows directly out of the hatred of evil, and the hatred of evil springs directly out of the love of goodness. There is no one who can .love life, without abhorring death; no one who has an appetency for light, without an antipathy to darkness."1 He who is able to love that which is lovely, cannot but hate that which is hateful. One class of emotions towards moral good, implies an opposite class towards moral evil. Every ethical feeling necessitates its counterpart; and therefore God's personal love towards the seraph, necessitates God's personal wrath towards the fiend.
1 Lactantius, De ira Dei, c. De testimonies animss, c. 2. 5. Compare also Tertullianus:
There is, therefore, no true middle position between the full Scriptural conception of God, and the deistical conception of him. We must either, with some of the English deists, deny both love and indignation to the Deity, or else we must, with the prophets and apostles, attribute both love and indignation to him. Self-consistency drives us to one side or the other. We may hold that God is mere intellect, without heart, and without feeling of any kind; that he is as impassive, and unemotional as the law of gravitation, or a geometrical axiom; that he neither loves the holy, nor hates the wicked; that feeling, in short, stands in no kind of relation to an Infinite Essence: or, we mav believe that the
7 1 V
Divine Nature is no more destitute of emotional, than it is of intellectual qualities, and that all forms of righteous and legitimate feeling enter into the Divine self-consciousness,—we may take one side or the other, and we shall be self-consistent. But it is in the highest degree illogical and inconsistent, to attribute one class of emotions to God, and deny the other; to postulate the love of goodness, and repudiate the indignation at sin. What reason is there, in attributing the feeling of complacency to the nature of the Infinite and Eternal, and denying the existence of the feeling of indignation, as so many do, in this and every age? Is it said that emotion is always, and of necessity, beneath the Divine Nature? Then why insist, and emphasize, that " God is love ?n Is it said that wrath is an unworthy feeling? But this, like love itself, do pends upon the nature of the object upon which it is expended? What species of feeling ought to possess the Holy One, when he looks down upon the orgies of Tiberius? when he sees John Baptist's head in the charger? Is it a mere illicit and. unworthy passion, when the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against those sins mentioned in the first chapter of Romans, and continually practised by mankind? And may not love be an unworthy feeling? Is not this emotion as capable of degenerating into a blind appetite, into a mere passion, as any other one? Which is most august and venerable, the pure and spiritual abhorrence of the seraphim, wakened by the sight of the sin and uncleanness of fallen Babylon, or the selfish fondness, and guilty weakness, of the unprincipled affection of earth? Which is most permeated with eternal truth and reason, and so most worthy of entering into the consciousness of a Divine and Supreme Mind, the wrath of law, or the love of lust?
So the Scriptures represent the matter; and upon the preacher's thorough belief, in the strict metaphysical truth of this Biblical idea of God, and his solemn reception of it into his mind, in all its scope and elements, with all its implications and applications, depends his power and energy as a religious thinker and speaker. He must see for himself, and make his hearers see, that God is just that intensely immaculate Spirit, both in his complacency and his displeasure, in all his personal qualities, and on both sides of his character, which Revelation represents him to be. No other energy can make up for the lack of this. With this, though his tongue may stammer, and his heart often fail him, the preacher will go out before his accountable, guilty, dying fellow-men, with a spiritual power that cannot be resisted.
For, man's mind is startled, when the Divine individuality thus flashes into it, with these distinct and definite emotions. "I thought of God, and was troubled." The human spirit trembles to its inmost fibre, when God's personal character darts its dazzling rays into its darkness. When one realizes, in some solemn moment, that no blind force or fate, no law of nature, no course and constitution of things, but a Being as distinctly selfconscious as himself, and with a personality as vivid in feeling and emotion towards right and wrong, as his own identity, has made him, and made him responsible, and will call him to account; when a man, in some startling but salutary passage in his experience, becomes aware that the intelligent, and the emotional I Am is penetrating his inmost soul, he is, if ever upon this earth, a roused man, an earnest, energized creature. All men know how wonderfully the faculties of the soul are quickened, when it comes to the consciousness of guilt; what a profound and central activity is started in all the mental powers, by what is technically termed " conviction." But this conviction is the simple consciousness that God is one person, and man ig another. Here are two beings met together,—a holy One, with infinite and judicial attributes, and a guilty one, with finite and responsible attributes,— the two are in direct communication, as in the garden of Eden, and hence the shame, the fear, and the attempt to hide.
If, however, it is supposed that there must be some abatement and qualification, in order to bring the Biblical representation of the Deity into harmony with some theory in the head, or some wish in the heart, it loses its incisive and truthful power over the human mind. If the full-orbed idea be so mutilated, that nothing but the feeling of love is allowed t^ enter into the nature of God, the mind softens and melts away into moral imbecility. If nothing but the emotion of displeasure makes up the character of the Deity, as was the case with the sombre and terrible Pagan religions, the mind of the worshipper is first overwhelmed with terror and consternation, and finally paralyzed and made callous by fear. But, if both feelings are seen necessarily to coexist in one and the same Eternal Nature, and each exercised towards its appropriate and deserving object, then the rational spirit adores and burns like the seraph, and bows and veils the face like the archangel.
2. In close connection with the doctrine of the living God, the Bible teaches the doctrine of the guilt of man • and this is the second element of force and fire, alluded to by the prophet in his interrogatory.
We have already noticed the close affinity, that exists between a vivid impression of the Divine character, and the conviction of sin. When that comparatively pure and holy man, the prophet Isaiah, saw the Lord, high and lifted up, he cried, "I am a man of unclean lips." And just in proportion as the distinct features of that Divine countenance fade from human view, does the guilt of man disappear. But here, again, as in the preceding instance of the Divine emotions, the difficulty does not relate so much to the bare recognition of the fact, as to the degree and thoroughness of the recognition. We have observed that there is a natural proneness to look more at the complacent, than at the judicial side of the Divine nature; to literalize and emphasize the love, but convert the wrath into metaphor and hyperbole. In like manner, there is a tendency to extenuate and diminish the degree of human guilt, even when the general doctrine is acknowledged. To apprehend and confess our sin to be our pure self-will, and crime, is very difficult. We much more readily acknowledge it to be our disease, and misfortune. Between the full denial, on the one hand, that there is any guilt in man, and the full hearty confession, on the other, that man is nothing but guilt before the Searcher of the heart, and Eternal Justice, there are many degrees of truth and error; and it is with regard to these intermediates, that the preacher especially needs the representations of the Bible. It is by the dalliance with the shallows of the subject, that public religious address is shorn of its strength.
The Scriptures, upon the subject of human guilt, never halt between two opinions. They are bloodred. The God of the Bible is intensely immaculate, and man in the Bible is intensely guilty. The inspired mind is a rational and logical one. It either acquits absolutely and eternally, or condemns absolutely and eternally. It either pronounces an entire innocency and holiness, such as will enable the possessor of it, to stand with angelic tranquillity, amidst the lightnings and splendors of that countenance from which the heavens and the earth, flee away, or else it pronounces an entire guiltiness, in that Presence, of such scarlet and crimson dye, that nothing but the blood of incarnate God can wash it away. The Old Testament, especially, to which the preacher must go for knowledge upon these themes, because the Old Dispensation was the educational dispensation of law, is full, firm, and distinct, in its representations. Its history, is the history of an economy designed by its rites, symbols, and doctrines, to awaken a poignant and constant consciousness of guilt. Its prophecy, looks with eager straining eye, and points with tremulous and thrilling finger, to an Atoner, and L'.: .tenement for guilt. Its poetry, is either the irrepressible mourning and wail of a heart gnawed "by g>i\lt, or the exuberant and glad overflow of a heart experiencing the joy of expiated and pardoned guilt.
And w> this, is owing the intense vitality of the Old Testament. To this element and influence, are traceable the vividness and energy of the Hebrew mind,—so different, in these respects, from the Oriental mind generally. The Hebrews were a part of that same great Shemitic race, which peopled Asia and the East, and possessed the same general constitutional characteristics. But why did the Hebrew mind become so vivid, so intense, so dynamic, while the Persian and the Hindoo became so dreamy, so sluggish and lethargic? Why is the religion of Moses so vivific in its spirit, and particularly in its influence upon the conscience, while the religions of Zoroaster and Boodh exert precisely the same influence upon the conscience of the Persian and the Hindoo, that poppy and mandragora do upon his body? It is because God subjected the Hebrew mind to this theistic, this guilt-eliciting education. From the very beginning, this knowledge of God's unity and personality, and of God's emotions towards holiness and sin, was kept alive in the chosen race. The people of Israel were separated, purposely, and with a carefulness that was exclusive, from the great masses of the Oriental world. Either by a direct intercourse, as in their exodus from Egypt, with that personal Jehovah who had chosen them in distinction from all other nations, or elfee by the inspiration of their legislators and prophets, the truth that God is a sovereign and a judge, "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty," was made more and more distinct and vivid in the Hebrew intuition, while it grew dimmer and dimmer, and finally died out of the rest of the Oriental populations. This education, this Biblical education of the Hebrews, was the source of that energy and vitality which so strikes us in their way of thinking, and modes of expression, and the absence of which is so noticeable in the literatures of Persia and India.
And here, it is obvious to remark upon the importance of a close investigation of those parts of the Old and New Testaments, which treat of the subject of atonement, as antithetic to that of sin and guilt. For, this doctrine of expiation, in the Christian system, is like a ganglion in the human frame; it is a knot of nerves; it is the oscillating centre where several primal and vital truths meet in unity. This single doctrine of sacrificial oblation is a vast implication. It implies the personality of God, with all its elements of power. It involves the absolute self-will and responsibility of the creature in the origin of sin. It implies the necessary, inexorable nature of justice. And if we analyze these again, we shall find them full of the " seeds
of things ;" full of the substance, and staple, of both ethics and evangelism. Those portions of the Bible/ therefore, which treat of this central truth of Christianity, either directly or indirectly, should receive the most serious and careful investigation. The Mosaic system of sacrifices should be studied, until its real meaning and intent is understood. The idea of guilt,—we employ the word in the Platonic sense,—and the idea of expiation, as they stand out pure and simple, yet vivid and bright, in the Prophets and Psalms, and in their inspired commentary, the Epistle to the Hebrews, should be pondered, until their intrinsic and necessary quality is apprehended. For, there is danger that the very ideas themselves may fade away and disappear, in an age of the world, and under a dispensation, in which there is no daily sacrifice, and frequent bleeding victim, to remind men of their debt to eternal justice. The Christian religion, by furnishing the one great sacrifice to which all other sacrifices look and point, has, of course, done away with all those typical sacrifices which cannot themselves take away guilt, but can remind of it.1 And now that the daily remembrancers of the ritual and ceremonial are gone, the human mind needs, more than ever, to ponder the teachings, and breathe in the spirit of the legal dispensation, in order to keep the conscience quick and active, and the moral sense healthy and sound, in respect to the two great fundamental ideas of guilt and retribution.
1 " In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of aim every year." Heb. x. 3.
It has been an error, more common since the days of Grotius, than it was in the time of the Protestant Reformation, that the doctrine of the atonement has been explained, and illustrated, too much by a reference to the attribute of benevolence and the interests of the creature, and too little by a reference to the attribute of justice, and the remorseful workings of conscience. There is hazard, upon this method. that the simple, uncomplex ideas of guilt'and atonement, as they operate in the very moral being of the individual sinner, and as they have their ground in the very nature of God, may be lost sight of, and the whole transaction of recon ciliation be transferred into a region which, during the first exercises of an awakened soul, is too distant for a vivid, apprehension and impression. Man must in the end, indeed, come to understand the bearings of the sacrifice of the Son of God, upon what Chalmers calls "the distant places of God's creation;" but he will be more likely to attain this understanding, if he first comes to apprehend its bearings upon his personal guilt and remorse, and how the blood of the Lamb expiates crime within his own burning self-consciousness. For, guilt and expiation are philosophical correlates, genuine cor respondencies, set over against each other, like hunger and food, like thirst and water. "My flesh," eaith the Atoner, "is meat indeed; my blood is
drink with emphasis." He who knows, with a vivid and vital self-consciousness, what guilt means, knows what atonement means as soon.as presented; and he who does not experimentally apprehend the one, cannot apprehend the other. If, therefore, any man would see the significance and necessity of sacrificial expiation, let him first see the significance and reality of crime, in his own personal character and direct relationships to God. The doctrine grasped and held here, presents little difficulty. For, the remorse, now felt, necessitates and craves the expiation; and the expiation, now welcomed, explains and extinguishes the remorse.
Now, it is the peculiarity of the Biblical representation of this whole subject, that it handles it in the very closest connection with the personal sense of sin; that is to say, in its relation to the conscience of man, on the one side, and the moral indignation of God, on the other. In the Scriptures the atonement is a propitiation • and by betaking himself to this representation, and making it his own spontaneous mode, of thinking and speaking upon this fundamental doctrine, the preacher will arm his mind with a preternatural power and energy. Look at the preaching of those who, like Luther and Chalmers, have been distinguished by an uncommon freedom and saliency in their manner of exhibiting the priestly office and work of Christ, and see how remarkably the Old Testament atonement vitalizes the conception, and the phraseology
There is no circumlocution, or mechanical explanation. The remorse of man is addressed. The simple and terrible fact of guilt is presupposed, the consciousness of it elicited, and then the ample pacifying satisfaction of Christ is offered. The rationality of the atonement is thus seen in its inward necessity; and its inward necessity is seen in the very nature of crime; and the nature of crime is seen in the nature of God's justice, and felt in the workings of man's conscience. In this way, preaching becomes intensely personal, in the proper sense of the word. It is made up of personal elements, recognizes personal relationships, breathes the living spirit of personality, and reaches the heart and conscience of personal and accountable creatures.
Is not, then, the word of God as a fire, in respect; to this class of truths, and its mode of presenting them? As we pass in review the representations of God's personal emotions, and of man's culpability, which are made in those living oracles, from which the clergyman is to draw the subject-matter of his discourses, and the layman is to derive all his certain and infallible knowledge respecting his future prospects and destiny, is it not plain, that if there be lethargy and torpor on the part of either the preacher or the hearer, if there be a lack of eloquence, it will not be the fault of the written Revelation? As we look abroad over Christendom, do we not perceive the great need of a more incisive impression, from those particular truths which relate to these personal qualities, these moral feelings of the Deity, which cut sharply into the conscience, probe and cleanse the corrupt heart, and induce that salutary fear of God which the highest author ity assures us is the beginning of wisdom? Is there in the visible Church, such a clear and poignant insight into the nature of sin and guilt, such reverential views of the Divine holiness and majesty, and such a cordial welcoming of the atonement of God, as have characterized the more earnest eras in Church history? And if we contemplate the mental state, and condition, of the multitude who make no profession of godliness, and in whom the naturalism of the age has very greatly undermined the old ancestral belief in a sin-hating, and a sin-pardoning Deity, do we not find still greater need of the fire, and the hammer, of the word of the Lord?
II. Having thus described the preacher's duty, in regard to a certain form and aspect of revealed truth, we pass, now, in the second place, to consider the hearer's duty, and thereby evince the reciprocity of the relation that exists between them. We shall direct attention, in the remainder of the chapter, to that sort of understanding, with regard to this mode of preaching, which ought to exist between the hearer and the preacher,—that intellec tual temper which the popular mind should adopt and maintain, towards this style of homiletica. For if, as we remarked in the outset, the effective' ness of the orator is dependent upon the receptivity of the auditor, then, there is no point of more importance to the Christian ministry, than the general attitude of the public mind towards the severer truths, and doctrines of revelation. What, then, is the proper temper in hearing, which is to stand over against this proper tone in preaching?
In order to answer this question, we must, in the outset, notice the relation that exists between Divine truth and an apostate mind like that of man, and the call which it makes for moral1 earnestness and resoluteness. For, we are not treating of public religious address for the .seraphim, but for the sinful children of men; and we shall commit a grave error, if we assume that the eternal and righteous truth of God, as a matter of course, must fall like blessed genial sun-light into the corrupt human heart, and make none but pleasant impressions at first. It is therefore necessary, first of all, to know precisely what are the affiuities, and also what are the antagonisms, between the guilty soul of man, and the holy Word of God.
It is plain, that such an antagonism is implied in the prophet's interrogatory. For, if the word of God is " as a fire," the human mind, in relation to it, must be as a fuel. For, why does fire exist, except to burn? When, therefore, the message from God breathes that startling and illuminating spirit which thrilled through the Hebrew prophets, and at times fell from the lips of Incarnate Mercy itself, still and swift as lightning from the soft summer cloud, it must cause
"Anguish, and doubt, and fear, and sorrow, and pain,
In mortal minds."
The posture, consequently, which the "mortal mind" shall take and keep, in reference to such a painful message and proclamation from the heavens, is a point of the utmost importance. Many a human soul is lost, because, at a certain critical juncture in its history, it yielded to its fear of mental suffering. The word of God had begun to be "a fire" unto it, and foreseeing (O, with how quick an instinct!) a painful process of self-scrutiny and self-knowledge coming on, it wilfully broke away from all such messages and influences, flung itself into occupations and enjoyments, and quenched a pure and good flame that would have only burnt out its dross and its sin; a merely temporary flame, that would have superseded the necessity of the eternal one that is now to come. For, there is an instinctive and overmastering shrinking in every man from suffering, which it requires much resolution to overcome. The prospect of impending danger rouses his utmost energy to escape from it, and his soul does not recover its wonted tranquillity, until the threatening calamity is overpast. In this, lies all the power of the drama, in its higher forms. The exciting impression made by a tragedy springs from the steadily increasing danger of siif faring, which thickens about the career of principal characters in the plot. The liability to undergo pain, which increases as the catastrophe approaches, united with the struggles of the endangered person to escape from it, wakens a sympathy and an excitement, in the reader or the spectator, stronger than that produced by any other species of literature. And whenever the winding-iip of any passage in human history, lifts off the burden' of apprehension from a human being, and exhibits him in the enjoyment of the ordinary,, happy lot of humanity, instead of crushed to earth by a tragic issue of life, we draw a breath so long and free, as to evince that we share a common nature, one of whose deepest and most spontaneous feelings is the dread of suffering and pain.
And yet, when we have said this, we have not said the whole. Deep as is this instinctive shrinking from distress, there are powers and motives which, when in action, will carry the human soul and body through scenes, and experiences, at which human nature, in its quiet moods and its indolent states, stands aghast. There are times, when the mind, the rational judgment, is set in opposition to the body, and compels its earth-born companion to undergo a travail, and a woe, from which its own constitutional love of ease, and dread of suffering, shrink back with a shuddering recoil.
This antagonism between the sense and the mind, is seen in its more impressive forms, within the sphere of ethics an.d religion. Even upon the low position of the stoic, we sometimes see a severe dealing with luxurious tendencies, and a lofty heroism in trampling down the flesh, which, were it not utterly vitiated by pride and vainglorying, would be worthy of the martyr and the confessor. But when we rise up into the region of entire self-abnegation for the glory of God, we see the opposition . between the flesh and the spirit, in its sublimer form, and know something of the terrible conflict between mind and matter in a fallen creature, and, still more, of the glorious triumph in a redeemed being, of truth and righteousness over pain and fear. "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee," is a command that has actually been obeyed by thousands of believers,—by the little child, and by the tender and delicate woman, who would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground, for delicateness and tenderness,—not in stoical pride and self-reliance, not with self-consciousness and self-gratulation, but in meekness, and feaf, and much trembling, and also in the spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind.
There is call, therefore, on the part of the hearer of religious truth, for that sort of temper which is expressed in the words of the Psalmist, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness." In this resolute utterance, suffering is not deprecated, as it would be, if these instincts and impulses of human nature had their way and their will, but is actually courted and asked for. That in the Psalmist which needs the smiting of the righteous and of righteousness, and which, for this reason, shrinks from it, is rigorously kept under, in order that the infliction may be administered for the honor of the truth, and the health of the soul.
And such, it is contended, should be the general attitude of the public mind, towards that particular form and aspect of divine revelation which has been delineated in the first part of this chapter. Every human being, the natural as well as the spiritual man, ought to say, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; let the truth and law of God seize, with their strongest grasp and bite, upon my reason and conscience, it shall be an eternal blessing to me.1' We do not suppose that the natural man, as such, cau make these words his own in the high and full sense, in which they were uttered by the regenerate and inspired mind of David. But we do suppose, that every auditor can control his impatience, and repress his impulses to flee away from the hammer and the fire, and conquer his prejudices, and compel his ear to hear doctrinal statements that pain his soul, and force his understanding to take in truths and arguments that weigh like night upon his feelings, and that say to him, as did the voice that cried in the tortured soul of Macbeth, "Sleep no more; rest and peace for thee, in thy present state, are gone forever." Has not the Christian ministry a right to expect a tacit purpose, and a resolute self-promise, upon the part of every attendant upon public worship, to hold the mind close up to all logical and self-consistent exhibitions of revealed truth, and take the mental, the inward consequences, be they what they may? One of the early Fathers speaks of the "ire of truth." Ought not every thinking, every reasoning man, to be willing to resist his instinctive and his effeminate dread of suffering, and expose his sinful soul to this "ire," because it is the ire of law and righteousness?
1. In presenting the argument for this sort of resolute temper, in the public mind, towards the cogent representations of the pulpit, it is evident, in the first place, that upon. the general principles of propriety and fitness, the sacred audience, the assembly that has collected upon the Sabbath day, and in the sanctuary of God, ought to expect and prepare for such distinctively Biblical representations of God and themselves, as have been spoken of. The secular week has been filled up with the avocations of business, or the pursuits of science and literature, and now when the exclusively religious day and duties begin, is it not the part of consistency, to desire that the eternal world should throw in upon the soul its most solemn influences, and that religious truth should assail the judgment and the conscience, with its strongest energy? Plainly, if the religious interests of man are worth attending to at all, they are worth the most serious and thorough attention. This Sabbatical segment of human life, these religious hours, should be let alone by that which is merely secular or literary, in order that while they do last, the purest and most strictly religious influences may be experienced. A man's salvation does not depend so much upon the length of his religious experience and exercises, as upon their thoroughness. A«single thoroughly penitent sigh wafts the soul to the skies, and the angels, and the bosom of God. But such exhaustive thoroughness in the experience, is the fruit only of thoroughness in the previous indoctrination. He, therefore, who is willing to place himself under the religioiis influences of the Sabbath and the sanctuary, should be willing to experience.the very choicest of these influences. He who takes pains to present himself in the house of God, should expect and prepare for the most truthful, and solemn of all messages. Professing to devote himself to the subject of religion, and no other, and to listen to the ministration of God's word, and no other, his utterance should be that of the Psalmist: "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness." Seating himself in the house of God, it should be with an expectation of plain dealing with his understanding, and with the feeling of the stern, yet docile auditor, whose uniform utterance before the preacher was: "Now let the word of God come." "We lay it down, then, as a maxim of fitness and self-consistency, that the public mind ought ever to expect and require from the public religious teacher, the most distinctively religious, and strictly Biblical exhibitions of truth, upon the Sabbath day, and in the house of God. Other days, and other convocations, may expect and demand other themes, and other trains of thought, but the great religious day of Christendom, and the great religious congregation, insists upon an impression bold and distinct from the w.orld to come. "He has done his duty, now let us do ours," was the reply of Louis XIV., to the complaint of a fawning and dissolute courtier, that the sermon of Bourdaloue had been too pungent and severe. There was manliness and reason, in the reply. The pulpit had discharged its legitimate function, and irreligious as was the grand monarch of the French nation, his head was clear, and his judgment correct.
If, now, the auditor himself, of his own free will, adopts this maxim, and resolutely holds his mind to the themes and trains of thought that issue from the word of God, a blessing and not a curse will come upon him. Like the patient smitten with leprosy, or struck with gangrene, who resolutely holds out the diseased limb for the knife and the cautery, this man shall find that good comes from taking sides with the Divine law, and subjecting the intellect (for we are now pleading merely for the human understanding), to the searching sword of the truth. There is such a thing as common grace, and that hearer who is enabled by it, Sabbath after Sabbath, to overcome his instinctive fear of suffering, and to exercise a salutary rigor with his mind, respecting the style and type of its religious indoctrination, may hope that common and prevenient grace shall become renewing and sanctifying grace.
Probably, no symptom of the feeling and tendency of the popular mind would be witnessed and watched with more interest, by the Christian philosopher or the Christian orator, than a growing disposition, on the part of the masses, to listen to the strict truths, the systematic doctrines of Christianity, and to ponder upon them. And why should there not be this disposition at all times? That which is strictly true is entirely true; is thoroughly true; true without abatement, or qualification. Why, then, shall a thinking creature shrink back from the exactitudes of theology, the severities of righteousness? Why should not the human mind follow out every thing within the province of religion, to its last results, without reference to the immediate painful effect upon the feelings? If a thing be true, why confer with flesh and blood about it? If certain distinctly revealed doctrines of revelation, .accurately stated and logically followed out, do cut down all the cherished hopes of a sinful man, with respect to his future destiny, why not let them cut them down? Why not, with the imsparing selfconsistence of the mathematician, either take them as legitimate and inevitable conclusions, from admitted sources and premises, in all their strictness and fearful meaning, or else throw sources, premises, and conclusions all away? How is it possible for a thinking man, to maintain a middle and a neutral ground, in doctrinal religion, any more than in science?
2. But, leaving this mainly intellectual argument for the Psalmist's temper, towards the stern side of Revelation, we pass, in the second place, to the yet stronger moral argument, drawn from the nature of that great spiritual change, which the Founder of Christianity asserts must pass upon every human being, in order to entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
Man, though self-ruined, is helplessly, hopelessly ruined. Loaded with guilt, which he cannot expiate, and in bondage to a sin from which he can never deliver himself, he cannot now be saved except by the most powerful methods, and the most thorough processes. What has been done outside, in the counsels of eternity, and in the depths of the Triune God, to bring about human redemption, evinces the magnitude and the difficulty of the work undertaken. But, of this we do not propose to speak. We speak only of what is to be done inside, in the mind and heart of the individual man, as evincing, conclusively, that this salvation of the human soul cannot be brought about by imperfect and slender exhibitions of truth, or by an irresolute and timorous posture of the auditor's mind. No man is compelled to suffer salvation. Pardon of all sin, from the eternal God, and purity for eternal ages, are offered to him, not as a cheap thing to be forced upon an unwilling recipient, but as a priceless boon. Our Lord himself, therefore, bids every man count the cost, and make up the comparative estimate, before he commences the search for eternal life. ." Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt." Be thorough in one direction, or the other. Either be a saint, or a sinner. The Redeemer, virtually, advises a man not to begin the search at all. unless he begin it in earnest. The entire Scripture representation is, that as man's salvation cost much on high and in the heavens, so it must cost much below, and in the soul of man. If, then, religion be not rejected altogether, and the hearer still expects and hopes to derive an everlasting benefit from it, he should take it precisely as he finds it, and allow its truths to wound first, that they may heal afterwards; to slay in the beginning, that they may make alive in the end.
For, such is the method of Christianity. Conviction is the necessary antecedent to conversion. But how is this great process to be carried through, if the public mind shrinks away from all convicting truth, as the sensitive plant does from the touch? How is man to be conducted down into the depths of an humbling and abasing self-knowledge, if he does not allow the flashing and fiery illumination of the law and the prophets, to drive out the black darkness of self-deception? It is impossible, as we have already observed, that Divine truth should pour its first rays into the soul of alienated man, without producing pain. The unfallen seraph can hear the law proclaimed amidst thunders and lightnings, with a serene spirit and an adoring frame, because he has perfectly obeyed it from the beginning. But Moses, and the children of Israel, and all the posterity of Adam, must hear law, when first proclaimed, with exceeding fear and quaking, because they have broken it. It is a fact too often overlooked, that Divine truth, when accurately stated and closely applied, cannot leave the mind of a sinful being as quiet, and happy, as it leaves that of a holy being. In the case of man, therefore, the truth must, in the outset, cause foreboding and alarm. In the history of the human religious experience, soothing, consolation, and joy, from the trath, are the subsequents, and not the antecedents. The plain and full proclamation of that word of God which is "as a fire," must, at first, awaken misgivings and fears, a,nd, until man has passed through this stage of experience, must leave his sinful and lost soul with a sense of danger and insecurity. There is, consequently, no true option for man, but either not to hear at all, or else to hear first in the
poignant and anxious style. The choice that is left him is either that of the Pharisee, or the Magdalen that of the self-righteous, or the self-condemned, either to hate the light, and not come to the light, lest painful disclosures of character and conduct be made, or else to come resolutely out into the light, that the deeds may be reproved.
For, this work of reproval is the first and indispensable function of religious truth, in the instance of the natural man. If there be self-satisfaction, and a sense of security, in the unreuewed human soul, it is certain that, as yet, there is no contact between it and the Divine word. For it is as true of every man, as it was of the apostle Paul, that when the law shall come with plainness and power to his mind, he will "die." His hope of heaven will die; his hope of a quiet death-bed will die; his hope of acquittal and safety in the day of j udgment, and at the bar of God, will die. That apostolic experience was legitimate and normal, and no natural man must expect that the truth and law of God, when applied with distinctness and power to his reason and conscience, will leave him with any different experience, in the outset, from that which has initiated and heralded the passage from darkness to light, and from sin to holiness, in every instance of a soul's redemption. There is no royal road across the chasm that separates the renewed, from the unrenewed man. In order to salvation, every human creature must tread, that strait and narrow path of self-examination, self-condemnation, and self-renunciation, which was trodden by the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the apostles, and the noble army of the martyrs.
In subjecting the mind and conscience to the poignant influence of keen and pure troth, and doing every thing in his power,to have the stern and preparatory doctrines of the legal dispensation become a schoolmaster, to lead him to the mercy and the pity that is in the blood of Christ, the hearer in the sanctuary is simply acting over the conduct of every soul that, in the past, has crossed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. He is merely travelling the King's highway, to the celestial city; and whoever would climb up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. Even the thoughtful pagan acknowledged the necessity of painful processes in the human mind, in order to any moral improvement. Over the Delphic portal were inscribed these words: "Without the descent into the hell of self.knowledge, there is no ascent into heaven." We do not suppose that this remarkable saying exhibits its full meaning, within the province of the pagan religion, or of natural religion. The heathen sage often uttered a truth, whose pregnant significance is understood only in the light of a higher and supernatural dispensation. But, if the anguish of self-knowledge is postulated by paganism, in order to the origin of virtue within the human soul, much more, then, is it by Christianity If the heathen moralist, with his low view of virtue, and his very indistinct apprehension of the spirituality of the moral law, and his utterly inadequate conception of a holy and happy state beyond the grave, could yet tell us that there is a hell of selfknowledge to be travelled through, a painful process of self-scrutiny and self-condemnation to be endured, before moral improvement can begin here, or the elysiums of the hereafter be attained,—if this be the judgment of the Heathen moralist, from his low point of view, and in the mere twilights of natural religion, what must be the judgment of the human mind, when, under the Christian dispensation, the moral law flashes out its nimble and forked lightnings, upon sin and pollution, with a fierceness of heat like that which consumed the stones and dust, and licked up the water in the trench, about the prophet's altar; when Divine truth is made quick and powerful by the superadded agency of the Holy Ghost, so as to discern the very thoughts and intents of the heart; when the pattern-image of an absolute excellence is seen in Him who is the brightness of the Father's eternal glory; and when the heaven to be sought for, and what is yet more, to be prepared for, is a state of spotless and sinless perfection in the light of the Divine countenance! Plainly, self.knowledge within the Christian sphere implies, and involves, a searching and sifting examination into character, motive, thought, feeling, and conduct, such as no man can undergo without shame, and humiliation, and self-condemnation, and remorse, and, without the blood of Christ, everlasting despair.
The same course of reasoning, respecting each and all the remaining processes that enter into the change from sin to holiness, and the formation of a heavenly character, would, in each instance, help to strengthen the argument we are urging in favor of the plainest preaching, and the most resolute hearing, of religious truth. The more a man knows of gin and of holiness, of the immense gulf between them, and of the difficulty of the passage from one to the other, the more heartily will he believe, that the methods and the processes by which the transition is effected, are each and all of them of the most energetic and thorough character. And the deeper this conviction, the more hearty and energetic will be his adoption of the Psalmist's utterance, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness."
We have thus considered the mutual relations of the Sacred Orator, and the Christian Auditor. In doing this, we have passed rapidly over a very wide field, and have touched upon some of the most momentous themes that can engage the human mind. What, and how, we are to conceive of God; and, particularly, how we are to represent Him as affected in His own essential being, towards the holiness or the sin of His creatures, is of all subjects the most serious and important. In closing the discussion,
We are more than ever impressed with the importance of a bold and Biblical theism, in the Christian pulpit. Whenever the preacher asserts that God loves the righteous, let him assert it with energy, and warmth, and momentum. Let him make his hearers see, and know, that the great God is personal in tnis emotion; that He pours out upon those who are in filial sympathy with Him and His law, the infinite wealth of His pure and stainless affection, and that it permeates the whole being of the object so beloved, with warm currents of light and life eternal. And whenever he asserts that God hates sin, and is angry with the sinner, let him assert it without any abatement or qualification. Let him cause the impenitent and sin-loving man to see, and know, that upon him, as taken and held in this sinful character and condition, the eternal and holy Deity is pouring out the infinite intensity of His moral displeasure, and that, out of Christ, and irrespective of the awful passion of Gethsemane and Calvary, this immaculate and stainless emotion of the Divine Essence is now revealed from heaven against his unrighteousness, and is only awaiting his passage into the eternal world, to become the monotonous and everlasting consciousness of the soul.
Amidst the high and increasing civilization, and over-refinement, that are coming in upon Christendom, and, especially, amidst the naturalism that threatens the Scriptures and the Church, the Christian ministry must themselves realize, as did the Hebrew prophets, that God is the living God, and by God's own help and grace evoke this same consciousness in the souls of their hearers. Let, then, these two specific personal qualities,—the Divine wrath, and the Divine love,—be smitten, and melted, into the consciousness of the nations. Then will there be the piercing wail of contrition, preceding; and heralding the bounding joy of conscious pardon.