Imatges de pàgina

immediate successors of the apostles enjoyed. This we hold to be the truth of the gospel of Jesus. Such a clergy we deem to be the true ministers of a true church. Hence, we regard as in the highest degree both unscriptural and absurd, the claims of any particular church whatever, that of Rome or that of England, to possess the only true line of ministers, to possess the only power of conferring the right to preach and administer the ordinances of the gospel ! We regard also, as wholly unscriptural in their foundation, and possessing therefore no just authority, none which christians ought to recognise, the various orders and ranks of ministers which exist in those churches.

Popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, we say, are not known to the gospel of Christ, and are not christian ministers whom all are bound to honor and obey. As to the question of expediency, we say nothing If particular nations prefer these distinctions, think them of good influence, and on that ground create or retain them, it is well. They have a right to their own judgments. We only say, that the humblest individual, chosen to be a christian minister by an assembly of christians, is of equal authority with them, has the same power, the same right to administer the ordinances, to pray and to preach. These are plain and obvious truths, but they are important ones. It is by obeying and honoring and defending them, that we shall save the church from returning to its former corruptions,

W. W.




The other branch of our subject is the changes in the character of preaching during the last fifty years. It is difficult to do justice to this topic. So much must depend on memory, observation, and opinion, that I express my mind with real diffidence.

I will direct your attention to the period of some twenty years before the American revolution. Looking back so far, seems as requisite in treating properly the subject now in hand, as that which has been considered. The sermons of that day were generally lengthy; more, I believe, exceeded, than sell short of an hour; and they were delivered in a dull and mom notonous manner, which attracted the attention of only the very pious and good. Exceptions there were ; and some of these fell under my observation more than sixty years ago. But Whitefield, that eloquent Methodist, and his coadjutors, gave a spring to preaching and hearing. He occasioned not only great excitement among the people, but aroused the ministers to more vigorous exertions. It is probable, he was the greatest instrument, at that period, of changing the character of preaching. His manner and zeal were very captivating and impressive. He awakened the attention of ininisters, as well as that of the people, The dull and careless method of preaching at that day, at least with a large portion of the regular clergy, gave Whitefield an opportunity to cry them down, which he did not neglect. He applied to the standing clergy the complaint of the prophet Isaiah : “They are dumb dogs, they cannot bark.' I recollect to have heard the observation, when a boy, that the ministers were asleep, and Whitefield waked them up.' I should think there was some justice in this remark.

Preaching received additional life and interest in the revolution. The way was prepared by the zeal and eloquence of Whitefield, and his assistants, Buel, Davenport, and others. To these succeeded the clerical patriots of the revolution, who partook of the general excitement, and carried their warm feelings into the pulpit, as well as into social circles. It is probable, their manner of conversation and preaching, at that interesting period, contributed very much to unite and encourage the people to resist the unrighteous claiins of Great Britain, and to sustain the war, after blood had been violently shed.

The Universalist, Murray, by his theatrical manner, forwarded the eloquence of the pulpit. The clergy could not but observe what kind of preaching arrested the attention of people ; and that it was the manner, rather than the matter of preaching, which produced the effect. Endeavors, however, to imitate the popular manner, were not general and persevering. With some few exceptions, there was still continued a great deficiency, both in the construction of sermons and the manner of delivering them. I would not intimate that the clergy, half a century past, were not as pious

and faithful as at the present period. Many of them were very godly and excellent men, whose memory I revere, and whose virtues I would imitate. I recollect their character with feelings of veneration. But the ministers were generally deficient in learning, in libraries, in study, and in the means of living. They were obliged to instruct scholars, or to labor with their hands, in order to procure a comfortable subsistence. On this subject, I can speak experimentally. Many of their sermons, therefore, were crude, indigested, and superficial. Pulpit oratory was cultivated only by a few, and by them with litile success. A considerable number were in the habit of leaning on the cushion, turning from elbow to elbow, and reading their sermons in a manner and tone far from engaging and impressive. There were, indeed, some learned, able, and powerful men in the ministry. But most of them were unpopular in their style of preaching. There were not sufficient animation and earnestness in the preachers to gain the attention and interest the feelings of their hearers. If the understanding was informed, the heart was unaffected.

This defect in preaching continued generally, till within the observation of many now living. It is needless, therefore, to add more on this article. But it seems proper to say, that the style and character of preaching have been greatly improved within a few years; and especially since the establishment of the theological schools at Cambridge and Andover. The general progress of knowledge and literature has contributed largely to the improvement of the character of preaching. And, I trust, a firm belief of the truth and importance of christianity, more than any thing else, has excited earnest desires and exertions in the clergy to induce all their hearers cordially and practically to embrace that religion. The utility of adapting discourses and the manner of speaking to the capacity and taste of the common people, as well as of the better informed, have been selt and acknowledged. By animated preaching under such impressions, untempered and infatuating zeal has been counteracted. Ministers have observed what kind of pulpit oratory has arrested the attention of their hearers, and have cultivated a more popular method of writing, and a more natural, impressive, and engaging manner of delivery.

When I compare the young gentlemen, who entered the ministry fifty years ago, with those who enter at the passing period, 1 perceive a great difference in favor of the latter, in almost all respects. There seems to me vast reason for gratitude to God, and for rejoicing in our privileges, improvements, and prospects.

Having expressed my recollections and remarks on the changes in religious opinions, and the character of preaching in New England, for the last fifty years, I take the liberty to offer some few advisory hints.

While we notice, with high satisfaction, great improvements in theological knowledge, in sermonizing, and in pulpit oratory, it is thought there are defects remaining, which might, and ought to be remedied. Is there not still, in some of our younger clergy and candidates for the ministry, an undue solicitude to ap

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