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which they established with the poorest of the poor, the schools and the ministries of all sorts which grew out of their labours, have sweetened unspeakably the bitter waters of our social and political life, and have left room and time for those large measures of wise and righteous legislation which have marked this century, and have made us on the whole the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the happiest of peoples.
Whatever the Evangelical School may have come to--and it is benignly appointed to all schools in time to decay—it will be written of it in history that in two great ages of revolution it brought an influence of incalculable magnitude to bear on the moral ideas, the social relations, and the spiritual hopes of the poorest of the people; and it helped thereby, beyond all other agencies, to render possible that orderly, peaceful, but large and rapid development of our nation which finds no parallel in the political history of mankind.
The dark side of the sphere of the preacher's influence is found in the narrowness of the pale within which he is prone to enclose both himself and the Church. It is truly a pale' which the Evangelical Churches have managed to establish ; and, like a celebrated political pale, it has borne sorrowful fruit. Preachers and people within the pale make for themselves but a small and dreary kingdom of heaven. At least, it looks dreary enough to those who are without. And yet we little dream what Christendom owes to the large free world which is opened in the Bible. Its manifold richness and variety, the succession of history, law, essay, drama, prophecy, and psalm, each of them masterpieces of art, opens a grand intellectual and imaginative expanse to its disciples. If we contrast the narrowness, the dryness, the dullness of the Koran with the play of glorious living light over the broad fields of Scripture, we shall better understand both the monotony and the sterility of Moslem civilisation, and the rich free life of Christian society. The men who were shut up to the Bible—and at a most critical era it was the one readingbook of the masses-were at any rate shut up in a large and fruitful world. And in these last generations, in multitudes of English families, the Bible and its literature has been the one intellectual interest heartily allowed. It is in Evangelical circles that the preacher has chiefly reigned. The Roman Church has employed him constantly as a kind of galvanic shock to a stagnant generation, as the missioner is employed now within the Anglican pale; but he has not been looked to for the supply of the daily bread. But a sermon is regarded as de rigueur in all Evangelical services—even a prayermeeting being considered a somewhat flat affair without an address; and it is distinctly by the power of the preacher that in this circle congregations are gathered and sustained.
And it is here that the poverty and narrowness of the intellectual realm have been most conspicuous. Preachers, having to do with the
largest themes, easily fancy that they and their people are brought out into a large world, forgetting that, though the world may be a large one, they may be content to tramp in a very dull and narrow round. The religious household, shut off from the world—we must remember what kind of world it was--occupied, itself to a large extent with religious exercises and activities, while its intellectual pabulum was furnished, in a measure which would be little suspected, by the religious magazines. I remember a thriving tradesman 'assuring me, about thirty years ago, that his magazine was as much reading as he found that he could get through in a month. I remember, too, that about the same period I was reading the Athenæum in a railway carriage, when a perfect stranger asked me, with a tinge of that pious bitterness which, alas! is about the most acrid of all things, whether. Henry' and 'Scott' would not profit me much more. It is easy to be contemptuous over such narrowness. tradesman friend was the representative of a considerable class. He was a shrewd successful: man, he was of weight in his circle, and he brought a good deal of influence to bear on municipal and political affairs. It is safer to try to comprehend such men than to despise them.
It is easy to understand how, in certain conditions, the-pulpit might wield an influence not altogether commensurate with the ability of the man who might fill it. The institution would have a solid weight of its own, greatly magnified by the absence of any. thing which could compete with it in its sphere. The preacher would easily rule and be made much of in his little world. Again it is very easy to be contemptuous, and to say that in 80 blind a kingdom a very one-eyed man might easily be king. But this would overlook some of the essential conditions of the matter, Stern critics of the splendid ceremonial of the medieval Church are apt to forget that a cathedral during a grand function was an unbought vision of a very bright world to multitudes of the poor. It was the one thing, and a very grand and imposing thing, which took them out of the squalid region of their dreary and monotonous lives. And if it took them up even a little above the excitement of wine, gambling, or lust, by so much it was a clear gain to them and to the community. There is much to be said for the lives of the saints from the same point of view, had we space to deal with it, and to show how their incredible marvels, and their easy playing with the fixtures of physical law, were balanced by elements of influence which it is safest not to despise.
In Evangelical churches the splendours and the marvels alike vanished ; but the preacher stood up, a not ignoble substitute, in their room. The services of the sanctuary were a bright break in the order of a somewhat monotonous life. With little to compete with him, the preacher had an eager audience around him, and in the general
dearth of culture he was tolerably sure to be superior to bis audia
The next idol of the religious world will not be the preacher, but the priest. About a generation ago, influences began very visibly to work, which have told powerfully on the position which the pulpit formerly enjoyed. A flood of cheap and, on' the whole, valuable literature has overspread the country, and has entered homes hitherto most jealously guarded from intellectual raids. The freest discussion of the most sacred truths is carried on in periodicals of the highest character and the widest circulation. Fiction of the best type appears in magazines for Sunday reading. Games and amusements which our fathers would have' regarded with horror are made free to the children of pious households; while a comparison, for instance, of Mrs. Marcet's Conversations orr English History with Mrs. Armitage's Childhood of the English Nation, will reveal the enormous advance in knowledge of the most complete and valuable kind which the work of one short generation has brought within the reach of all. The circle of interest, too, in homes has widened immensely, and as it has widened the one main interest of the old time has in some measure suffered eclipse. In the Wales of fifty years ago, the ministry of a man like Christmas Evans filled a great space in the way of interest and excitement ; now revivals have to be managed on a great scale, with all the art and effort which make success in business, if they are to lay hold on men. These new conditions demand, not a pulpit only, but a man in it of no ordinary power. If he holds his own against the pressure, it must be by force of superior nature and culture. The institution is comparatively nothing; the man, as Heaven has endowed him, is all.
Dogmatism, using the word in po ignoble sense, is a greut element of strength in the pulpit, and it has been sadly shattered by the breaking up of the systems of theological thought which has marked our times. The dogmatists are now perhaps to be found in the philosophical school. There has been, too, a great drawing away of the abler men of the young generation from the work of the ministry, from various causes, not the least of which is the uncertainty which has reigned in the theological sphere. It has touched the strength of all Churches; though I am disposed to believe that now that we have got out into a freer world the worst is past, at any
rate among the Nonconformists. But the new conditions at which we have glanced present the gravest difficulties, graver perhaps than any which preachers have had to face in any period of Christian history. And yet, in a sense, the times are with them. Their platform is knocked from under them; the institution feebly upbears them ; the class as a class, the profession as a profession, is of far slighter account than of old. But if a man can preach, if his word is with power, never perhaps was there a time when he had a more open field for his activity, or a fairer hope of influence on a large class of his fellowmen.
Mr. Spurgeon's truly remarkable ministry can by no means be overlooked in any thoughtful estimate of the work of the preacher in our times. We may have our thoughts as to his theology, and yet hold him in hearty honour for the firmness with which he has stood so long in slippery places, growing wiser and stronger under influences which would have been fatal to most men, and for the hold which he has maintained on multitudes who, but for his ministry, would have been morally and socially wrecks. And quite recently London and all our great towns have been stirred to an extent hardly paralleled in history by the American revivalists.
Whatever we may think of their methods, it cannot be denied that for a time the interest was profound and universal. It was altogether the dominant topic while it lasted. Their preaching was a matter of such large public interest that, Nonconformists as they were, it drew forth a thoughtful and kindly letter from the Primate ; while all classes, from the highest to the lowest, swelled the throngs which hung upon their lips. The influences which are sapping the order of things which made the pulpit a great power in its time, favour the preacher if he knows how to handle them. As far as
As far as this aspect of things is concerned, there is little sign that the foolishness of preaching is about to perish out of the world.
But, after all, does this touch the real heart of the subject ? Granted that the solid middle class has been touched or even moulded by the pulpit, there is the great working class at one end of the scale, and the great cultivated class at the other. Does not the one regard it with rough indifference, and the other with polished scorn ?
The relation of the working classes to the pulpit is part of a far larger question-How are they likely to stand affected to such a Christianity as Christendom has to present to them, which one sometimes thinks has little but names in common with that Gospel which the poor heard gladly' of old? Then the truth came to them from outside the sphere of their wrong and suffering. The preacher came as a reformer, and held out to them a large hope. The restless longing of the poor was on his side. Now he is part of the system-a system which somehow suffers the city slums and the village lairs of the poor to grow up in the heart of a Christian civilisation. Their
slums and hovels are the fruit of their own improvidence, say the
There is justice in the answer— Had you been nursed under such conditions, perhaps it might have been thus with you. Be that as it may, the preacher has now at his back the whole system of things of which, rightly or wrongly, the poor complain. There are the pomp, the wealth, and the respectability of Churches, established and free; the former connected in their minds with exactions and tyranny, the latter with interested professional zeal. There must be a great breaking up of things before the working classes can be brought into any fair relation with the preacher and his Gospel. But when the shock is over—and there are signs that it is at hand—it is in the Bible that the preacher to the poor will find the word in season' to proclaim their needs, to assert their rights, to expound their duties, and to rule and hallow their lives; nor know I anywhere a vision so charged with a blessed and beautiful hope for the poor as the Scripture vision of the kingdom of heaven.
I confess to being very sceptical as to this alienation of the masses from the truth as it is in Jesus. I fear that it is the Christianity which is wanting, and not their interest and hope. We know what a pastor of a right noble Christian type could accomplish at Eversley; and wherever a man or a woman clothed with meekness, or the power which is fed from the higher springs, goes forth on a Christlike errand of mercy, where are they so sure of loving reverence and loyal honour as among the poorest of the poor ? Were the Master with us, ' Blessed be ye poor?' would be his sentence still.
But at the other end of the scale there is the rapidly growing intellectual class, which we are told is coming to regard the preacher and his unverifiable assertions with quiet indifference or scorn; and it is confidently predicted that, as culture advances, the pulpit, and the whole system of things in which it is a power, will be left behind among the worn-out superstitions of mankind. There can be no doubt that there is a peculiar virulence in the tone of some of the doctors of the school which has now justly the ear of the public towards the preacher and his thoughts and ways. And hence arises a truly formidable danger. But I hold that for this antagonism the pulpit is mainly responsible. It is reaping as it has sown, and it has to pass through its time of humiliation. The preacher readily entertains the notion that the whole scheme of things is laid out to his small understanding in the word of God. He seems as if he came down on the vast range of subjects which he is tempted to handle as from a superior height; and this is what the scientific mind can never endure. The place of theology in the sphere of man's knowledge tempts its doctors to believe that it confers the right of speaking with a certain decision on all kinds of topics; and there has always been a sort of omniscient tone in the pulpit method of handling