THE FOURTEENTH HARTLEY LECTURE:
and the Man:
Some Essentials of Effective Preaching
J. DODD JACKSON.
W. A. HAMMOND,
PRIMITIVE METHODIST PUBLISHING HOUSE,
HOLBORN HALL, CLERKENWELL ROAD, B.C.
The Rev. James Jackson
A PRIMITIVE METHODIST PREACHER
FOR FIFTY-FIVE YEARS
PRESIDENT OF THE CONFERENCE
THIS BOOK IS
AFFECTIONATELY AND REVERENTLY
"'A WORKMAN' NEEDING 'NOT TO BE ASHAMED, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.'"
It would be strange, indeed, if in the procession of annual volumes of which this lecture is an unit, there did not arrive a book about preaching. The work of the preacher holds so large a place in the service and worship of God; it is, to all appearance, so essential to the accomplishment of the purposes of the Redeemer; its content and quality mean so much to the life and health of the Church; it has played—and is destined to play—so great a part in the saving of mankind, that, sooner or later, it was bound to come within the purview of this lectureship.
Now that, at last, the inevitable has happened, it may be said that the following pages have been written under the conviction that one of the greatest needs of the present day is a pulpit revival—a revival which will issue in a new endeavour to realise the highest possibilities of the divinest of callings. Many of late years have wandered from the fold of the Church; mighty is the multitude of those who have never been within her fellowship. The author is more than convinced that any attempt to claim and reclaim must, to be successful on a large scale, commence in a renaissance of Gospel preaching. With the preacher, more than with the ecclesiastic or the musician or the theologian, not to mention the Biblical critic and the religio-social worker, rests the task of solving the great problem of twentieth century Christianity. This problem is neither a critical nor a theological one, but simply that of the age-long campaign:—How shall we so commend the Christ as to draw the world to His feet?
To this avowal, the writer would venture to add a brief personal explanation. Strongly convinced, though he is, of the soundness of the view expressed above, he did not enter willingly upon the task of this book. His brother preachers will know what it is to be captured by a text which comes uninvited and persistently demands to be preached upon. How often such an arrest finds its subject unwilling, doubtful of his powers, afraid to be obedient to the unsought command! So came the subject of this essay to the writer thereof. For long he tried strenuously, though vainly, to make his escape to the refuge of some other topic wherein he might, less daringly, discharge the responsibilities of this lectureship. He disclaims, therefore, any presumption of which he may be accused in attempting an enterprise which some may think is outside his province or beyond his powers. This book embodies not a challenge, but a surrender!
One word more may be allowed. Surely, no one will need to be told that the "Hartley Lecture" is delivered under the auspices of the Primitive Methodist Church, or that its delivery is included in the programme of its Annual Conference. This will explain why the reader will find, here and there, in the chapters here assembled, certain denominational allusions of a historic and biographical character. Primitive Methodists will readily understand them and, we hope, discover that they add force to argument—strength to appeal. Readers of other denominations will not find that the meaning of the writer is obscured by any one of these references. As for the principles sought to be commended and emphasised, any application they may have is not limited by denominational boundaries.
LONDON, June 1st, 1912.
Chapter I. The Designation of the Preacher " II. Things to be Realised " III. The Need for Certainty " IV. Individuality " V. Concerning "Understanding" " VI. Passion
THE MESSAGE:—ITS ESSENTIAL NOTES.
Chapter I. The Note of Accusation " II. The Note of Pity " III. The Note of Idealism " IV. The Note of Edification " V. The Note of Cheer
THE MESSAGE:—ITS FORM AND DELIVERANCE.
Chapter I. On Attractiveness " II. On Transparency " III. On Appeal
"There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High."—Psalms.
"Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country and go down into the desert."
"And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to the months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine."—Ezekiel.
"But the water is nought, and the ground barren."—2 Kings.
THE MESSAGE AND THE MAN
Among the many problems of a problem-ridden time the most important, as it is the most difficult, is that of the apparent arrest which has befallen the progress of Protestant Christianity in this and other lands. For a long period now, we have heard from the various churches an annually repeated story of decreases in membership, in congregations, in Sunday School scholars. We have been told, also, of a general decay of reverence for sacred things, of a growth of frivolity, a surrender of high ideals and of old faiths to the spirit of materialism which more and more, so it is said, dominates the age. That Sabbath of our youth; that attachment by families to the sanctuary which was so marked a feature of our national life; that fine old English home life and filial piety; that deep communal consciousness of God which, whether it produced personal profession of religion or not, did at least create a sense of the seriousness of life and duty and so make our people strong to labour and endure—these things, we are informed, will soon be no more. Regarding the situation, all thoughtful men are concerned and some are panic stricken. The account given by the latter is to the effect that religion is losing its hold; that the Church is being left high and dry; that the morality of classes and masses alike shows darker signs of degeneration with the coming of each succeeding day.
Now, we are of those who, while trying to look facts in the face, endeavour, also, not to see double and to keep heart of hope. It is easy to make too much of statistics, and very easy, in a moment of depression, to come to conclusions concerning the state of the Church, and the life of the world, which a day of brighter and truer mood will greatly modify. There is no cause for either panic or pessimism, but there is cause for the asking of questions as to reasons for the condition of things, for the making of suggestions for their improvement.
And of such questions, many have been asked, questions relating to the Church, her methods, her teaching, her attitude to the world around her, to great social and moral issues. Of suggestions, too, there have been many, and many of them have been seriously received and adopted as the starting points of changes and modifications, the purpose of which has been to stay the progress of alleged decline in this field or in that. Beyond all admiration, has been the willingness to make sacrifices and put forth efforts to win back the wanderer to the fold which have been exhibited by those to whom changes are not always the most agreeable things in the world. The unfortunate thing is that, notwithstanding all that has been done, it cannot be claimed that the problem has been solved.
Now, it is a recognition of this problem, and of the fact that all efforts so far made to find a solution and devise a remedy have failed to meet with the success which had been hoped for, that has determined our choice of a subject for this—the fourteenth Hartley Lecture. Can it be possible, that in some degree, the preaching of the preachers has been to blame for the things we mourn?
From America we hear of a new profession which has been called into existence as a result of the fierce competition of industrial and commercial life. It is the profession of "the business doctor," and already the idea has been justified. All is not well, perhaps, with some great firm; rivals are getting ahead; profits are declining, and "the business doctor" is called in to investigate and prescribe. He goes from department to department, considering the methods pursued, checking the expenditure on this, on that, on the other. He interviews the partners, the managers, the men down through the various grades; the books are open to him. He presents his diagnosis and writes his prescription. The "business doctor" has been at work in the churches—in our Church. He has looked into many things. He has made some suggestions. They have not all been foolish, but, as yet, he has not quite hit upon the very thing. He has, however, not altogether finished his work. Why should he not come into the preacher's department, into the pulpit, into the study? Why should he not be permitted to read some of those treasured manuscripts which have been—shall we say the joy, or shall we say the discipline?—of so many congregations? Why should he not be allowed to bring paper and pencil, and, ensconced in a pew commanding full view of the rostrum, write down the thing that is true about the part we take in the work of saving the world? Perhaps he may find that all is well. Perhaps he may find that all is not quite well. If this should be the case, how important that we should know it. Discovery is often the starting point of improvement.
That, in view of the situation referred to, we should, each of us for himself, consider his preaching, is the suggestion we would make to every preaching reader of the pages to follow. We leave the figure of the "business doctor," for every illustration is of limited usefulness, which is a good thing to learn. There is but one authority capable of conducting this inquiry in such a way as inevitably to make discovery of the real truth. That authority is surely the preacher's own conscience as taught, illuminated and guided by the Holy Spirit. At once we make a confession:—This lecture raises a question, but does not presume to answer it. We will be satisfied to set men asking and answering for themselves. Here is the inquiry:—Am I, as a preacher, in any way to blame for the decline in Church prosperity, for the lack of conversions, for such signs and results of spiritual indifference as are to be seen on every hand? This question may pave the way for others:—Is there anything amiss with the substance of my preaching, with its methods, with its spirit? If there be weakness here or there; if it lack the true note; if it have lost strength to grip, sharpness to probe, power to heal; if, in short, it lacks aught of being the means of grace it was designed to be, can it be brought, once more, on to the right lines? Our words may be as a river refreshing the Church of God, and flowing out through the portals of the sanctuary, bearing fertility and healing to the world; they may, again, from loss of virtue, fail to enrich the waiting land. There will be living trees by the living stream. There will be barrenness where "the water is nought"!
For preaching has been effective and the story thereof is a story full of glory. Within the single century of our own church history what wonderful things have been done by the ministry of the Word. It must never be forgotten by those of our fellowship that the Primitive Methodist Church owes its existence to a revival of preaching. Our founders were not seceders; they were preachers. They searched the Scriptures not to find passages to hurl at theological antagonists, or so-called ecclesiastical tyrants, but to find texts for sermons to save sinners, build up saints and glorify the Saviour whom they loved better than their own lives. These sermons they preached under the open ceiling of the skies in Summer's heat, and Autumn's storms, and Winter's snow. England had been waiting for just such preaching as these rugged men came forth in God's name to deliver, and the common people heard them gladly. Immediately succeeding our actual founders came a race of preachers who carried the glad tidings East, West, North and South, along the highways and byeways of England, gathering in the lost and folding the gathered. Some of them, we remember, and could mention them name by name but that the list is very long, and we would insist upon lingering to speak of deeds as names came forth. We must recall their triumphs, for the inspiration we will need as we pursue the task before us now.
Another thing that must never be forgotten is that, as our Church was founded by preaching, and has been built up by preaching, by preaching will it be upheld and increased, or not at all. We are forward to recognise the immense importance of other branches of service and the great part they have played in our wondrous past. The pastor carrying the message of salvation and consolation to the homes of the fallen and stricken; the teacher gathering the little ones around him Sabbath by Sabbath; the tract distributor, now, alas! too seldom seen about his work, but of great usefulness in earlier days—these and a score of differently named toilers have laboured in the uprearing of this city of the Lord. But ever the preacher has been the leader of them all—the pioneer, the quarryman, the inspirer. The pulpit has been ever the place of direction and, still more truly, of encouragement. The Church has increased with the increase of the Preacher. Shall we venture to prophesy? With his decrease shall come the decrease of the Church. No Church has ever flourished in which the power of the pulpit has declined. Primitive Methodism cannot afford to underestimate the importance of preaching. Her very life is in it!
So the subject of preaching is of first importance. This must be recognised by the preacher, but not by him alone. It must be recognised by the Church as well. The preacher is prone to put upon the place and work of his pulpit much the same estimate as is put upon them by his people. There is one Church in this land in which the people think little of preaching. In some great sanctuaries of that Church it is a common occurrence for the congregation to leave the building as the liturgical portion of the service comes to an end and the preacher takes his place. The preaching in that body, although it has among its ministers men who are among the pulpit princes of the age, is speaking generally, a sorrow to all who long for the coming of the Kingdom of God. "Like priest, like people," we sometimes say. We might say with almost equal truth, "Like people, like preacher." Are there no signs of such a belittling of preaching in our congregations as may have the effect of lowering the preacher's ideals of his labours, or, at least, of damping his enthusiasm and spoiling the joy with which his heart should always run over? Do we never hear it said that "it does not so much matter in our circuit whether we have a preacher or not"? Have we never been told that really the man most needed is "a visitor," or "an organiser," or "someone who can raise the wind"? "We want a sociable man," says the steward of one station. "We want a public man who will make his mark on the civic and political life of the town," say the brethren of another. We recognise that the gifts of men differ. We see that each, in his own order, may serve and build up the Kingdom of God, but to rank the business of preaching as second to any form of service; to care less for the pulpit than for the class-room, the social, the entertainment, the bazaar, is a fatal mistake. You may make the Church a successful business concern, an interesting and delightful social circle; you may make it a pleasant and intellectual society whither cultured people may resort for new ideas as to an exchange. All this you may do and care little concerning the preacher; but you can only make a strong Church rich in spiritual grace and knowledge and usefulness and power by fostering, with a care amounting to jealousy, the preaching of the Gospel of the grace of God. If, therefore, out of the problem we have named, there arises a question to be asked by the preacher concerning his preaching, there also arises, just as certainly, a question for the Church. It is a question as to whether preaching has always been allowed its chance amongst us, whether we have helped the preacher to realise his best possibilities by requiring them from him with an affectionate but strong insistence. There may even be another question:—Whether we have not sometimes actually discouraged the true preacher and sent him sorrowing away, because, forsooth, it has happened that in his devotion to the great work of his calling, he has seemed to underestimate the importance of some activities we held to be within his duty. No man can be master in everything; which is one of the lessons sorely needing to be learned by us all. There have been preachers, mighty in word and doctrine, whose hearts have been broken because of the blame thrown upon them for failing to prove themselves equally skilful as financial agents. Let the Church look well to this matter. Her preachers will probably be as great, as effective, as successful as she requires and encourages them to be!
All this, however, is by the way, though of such moment that we might well linger to lay emphasis upon emphasis. For the present we are concerned more with the preacher than with his congregation. The question we desire to put into his heart has already been indicated. The inquiry is suggested for the use, not of one order of preachers but of all. In the denomination to which we belong only one preacher in eighteen is what is termed a minister. The question is proposed, not only for the exercising of this one brother, but of the other seventeen as well. It has been intimated to us that a book on this subject "might be of special use to our young men." Glad shall we be if this prove to be the case! But not among the younger preachers alone do we seek to initiate this searching self-examination. Possibly it may be even less needful to them than to the more mature. The most dangerous days of the preacher's career are, after all, not its earliest. In the enthusiasm which, almost always, attends his launching forth into the work there is an element of salvation from some of the perils through which he may lose his strength in years when, perhaps, that enthusiasm may have passed with the novelty which now gives glamour to his tasks. Then there is still another class whose consideration we would solicit for what we may have to say. We refer to those—and they are many—to whom, as yet, preaching is but an ambition, a dream, a prayer. Some day they hope to stand before others, as now others stand before them, to speak forth for Christ's sake the story which has so often warmed their hearts. It is a glorious ambition; the human breast can contain no higher. Will such as cherish it join with us in thinking of these things? In order to arrive at the true answer to the questions proposed we shall need to look in various directions. As a beginning, we must, each one of us, go faithfully over his own record, tabulating results so far as they can be ascertained. We are quite willing to admit that some of the finest consequences of preaching may not be known to the preacher, but there is always material for an estimate as to the measure of success or of failure, which has attended his efforts. Let us, therefore, go back through the years, back along the path of bygone Sabbaths. Confession? No! For that we do not ask. Our discoveries may well rest between ourselves and God.
Let us make comparisons, too, however odious comparisons may be. Other men are set within our view. There are preachers—thank God!—to whom, even in these days, success is richly given. It may be one of God's purposes that they shall be considered as examples proving the high possibilities of the holy ministry when tuned to its highest notes. Let us relentlessly bring our work into comparison with theirs. "If he succeeds, why do not I?" The results of such a measurement may be disappointing, disquieting, humiliating, but the path to the best has often a first mile of painful self-discoveries.
Then there were the former days of our own ministries and the ideals which in those days we cherished and have never forgotten. Let us bring out present selves alongside of what we were; let us put the work of to-day alongside of the work of that far-off time; let us compare the dream with the fulfilment thereof. Have passing years dimmed our ardour? Have they chilled our love? Have we gathered pulpit powers, or lost them, as the days have flown over our heads? There is somewhere a story of a man who, on his fiftieth birthday, received a call from his own beardless self of thirty years before, and, when he gazed upon his strange guest, he wept for what his visitor must see. Can it be true that in point of effectiveness and real success some of us were better preachers in youth than we are now after years of study, of experience, of opportunity to wax greater in every way?
There is still another test. Here are human sin, human sorrow. Here are the perplexity of the perplexed, the fear of the fearful. Here Rachel weeps for her children. Here the widow and the fatherless cry aloud. Here are misery, crime, despair. The whole world is full of hunger and thirst, of grief and wretchedness, of shame and remorse. Let us bring our preaching into comparison with these!
Above all other means of coming to the truth, let us take our preaching back to Him who sent us forth. Let us, in His company, walk once more the roads of Judea; with Him let us stand on the shores of Galilee, the slopes of Olivet, the pavements of Zion, the heights of Calvary. Let us listen to His preaching and in His presence let us think of ours.
So let us follow the matter to the end, painful though that end may be. It is needful that we do indeed learn the very truth; needful for the sake of the Church. She needs the Gospel for herself. She must eat if she would live. The times are times of hardness for the flock of God. It is necessary that a table be prepared in the wilderness. The Church needs preaching, needs the inspiration of beholding the preachers' victories. Nothing strengthens an army like a triumph. The conquests of the preacher are the salvation of the Church.
For the world's sake it is needful that we come at the truth. The age may not want preaching, but it needs it. Possibly it also wants it more than we suspect. It must be preaching of the right kind, however. Preaching that lacks the qualities proper to itself is worse than useless.
For our own sake, we preachers must come at the facts as they are. It lies before us all to give one day an account of our stewardship, and the years are swiftly passing by. Now is the time for investigation. Soon will come the hour when opportunity will be succeeded by retrospect. Men have been known to make discoveries in relation to this matter when too late; when only the possibilities of regret remained. To look back over the past and think that men have suffered in relation to eternal things as a result of our lack of zeal or of faithfulness, or from some preventable defect in our dispensing of the word, must be a sad occupation for those years when the grasshopper has become a burden. The echo of our sermons will be in our ears at the last. That echo will be either a song of gladness to sing itself forever, or a lamentation to be soothed to sleep no more!
To be of some little service in the course of this personal and private inquiry this volume is sent out. It claims only to be a reminder of things perfectly well known, but of the sort that need repeating. Will our brethren of their charity acquit us of the charge of presumption in taking up the theme now timidly approached? Many, very many, who turn these leaves will bring to their perusal far greater ability, and knowledge, and experience than we are able to wield in their writing. A few men learn the value of wealth from the possession of it; more from a lack thereof. Nothing better teaches the value of money than the association in the learner's experience of hunger with an empty pocket. What slight qualification for the production of this book we possess has been obtained in a similar way. Some few things we have learned; some we have proved through our many mistakes; some, again, through our frequent failures. They will be found set down in the chapters yet to come.
As a general statement of the plan of our endeavour, it may be said that we will try to speak of some essentials of effective and successful preaching, essentials first in the preacher, then in the substance of his message, and, finally, in the form and manner of its presentation and delivery.
THEORY OF BOOK I.
To have Effective Preaching you must have the Effective Preacher. Jesus Christ first Chose and Called His men and then communicated the Substance of the Message He wished them to Declare to the World. To every Preacher it is left to speak that Message in his Own Way. The Importance of the MAN in relation to the accomplishment of the purposes of the Message is therefore obvious, and with him we begin.
What are the Essential Qualities of the Effective Preacher?
The Designation of the Preacher.
The preaching of the Gospel is more than a mere utterance of certain historical facts with deductions therefrom; more than a declaration of certain doctrines with their applications. It is a highly complex intellectual, moral and spiritual act. Two men may deliver the same sermon. There may be similarity of voice, of manner, of delivery, but one of these men will preach the sermon, the other only recite it. The difference may be almost beyond definition, yet it will be felt. At the bottom it will be found to be this:—That one man is a preacher and the other is not.
So then the man himself matters? Indeed he does, and to the extent that it is not the declaiming of what may be called a sermon that makes a man a preacher, but the man who, through self-expression, by being what he is, makes such an utterance preaching. First the preacher, afterwards the preaching.
And in the preacher the first essential to effectiveness and success is what we have called designation, and designation is in part natural and in part spiritual. Natural fitness and spiritual calling, gifts, graces and a divine revelation made to his own consciousness—without these the occupation of the preacher's office, especially in the capacity of the separated ministry, can only be a perpetual misery and mortification to the so-called preacher. To those who come to him for guidance in the things of God the result of their absence may be incalculable and eternal!
And, alas! there are to be found, in the ministry of all the churches, men in whom natural and spiritual qualifications for their work are absent and have always been absent. Concerning such men but a few words, and those in reply to the reminders that we are continually receiving of the ineptitudes and inaptitudes of preachers. These things form a favourite topic with some people, to whom we will at once say, that while there may be misfits in the pulpit, probably they are there in no greater numbers than in other walks of life. We have known such misfits at the bar; in the surgery; in the shop; at the bench. The preacher's failure is of all failures the most public, and consequently more discussed than are such other examples as we have named. We have been so often told that "the fool of the family goes into the Church" that we find a natural satisfaction in pointing out that this particular fool is to be met with in every lane of life. Never a war which does not reveal his presence in the army; never a political campaign in which we do not see him being shouldered into Imperial Parliament. Never do men talk together of their experiences of bodily suffering, as sometimes even the least morbid of us will, but some one is found to recall afflictions at the hands of the physician of little wit. The "incompetent" is everywhere and if, sometimes, he finds his way into the pulpit, those who jeer at the Church on his account have little room for scorn.
But, true as is this reply to the oft-repeated gibe to which we have referred, it is also true that nowhere does the square man in the round hole do quite as great and as lasting injury as he does from the pulpit. The right man for the work—that must be the ideal of the Church, that man and no other, whatever be the consequence in the way of offending well-to-do supporters whose dream it has been that son of theirs shall "wag his head in a pu'pit," whatever be the disappointment caused to the uninspired ambitions of callow youth or the conceit of later years. The pulpit is not for sale! The honour of standing there is not to be dispensed as a reward or allowed as a compliment. Wealth has no rights and poverty no disabilities as to the occupancy of this high place. Only the preacher must be suffered there!
And on this matter the Church must be jealous and alert. Sometimes the responsibility for the presence of the wrong man in the pulpit rests with her rather than with the man himself. It is open to question whether the Church always regards with quite sufficient seriousness this business of putting names "upon the plan." We have known cases in which an individual has been persuaded against his own knowledge of his qualities to set out upon a career which has brought to himself nothing but failure and to the churches and congregations to which he has ministered nothing but trial. We do well to be anxious to help men into paths of Christian service, but it is needful to study the adaptation of the man for the task. To send any man into the work of preaching, either as a minister or as a lay preacher, merely to "find him something to do," in order that he may be "encouraged in the good way," as has been done in many and many an instance, is simply to prepare difficulties for some one else to face. It is not sufficient reason for aiding a man's progress to the pulpit that his ambitions run in that direction, or that his relatives wish to see him in the preacher's office. We have hinted at the possibility of giving offence, and, of course, it is not pleasant to do this, especially when, as is often the case, that offence has to be given to people whom you love and honour for their works and character and sacrifices. In this world, however, unpleasant things have to be faced, and frequently the line of least resistance leads in the end to the greater trouble. It is even more unpleasant to have to disappoint the hopes, and discourage the desire for service, of some young aspirant whose piety and devotion you admire; but it is better to hold a man back from the very thing he longs for most than, by cowardly acquiescence in mistaken purposes, to contribute to place him in a position for which he was not born. Has this never been done? Have we never known officials vote a formal recommendation "rather than hurt the young man's mind," or "rather than estrange his parents who are such good supporters, you know," trusting, meanwhile, to Providence for a happy issue out of all their troubles? In the case of a local preacher the providential issue may be the man's own discovery, sooner or later, of his own unfitness. In the case of a candidate for the ministry some Connexional Committee sitting in some distant town "may take a stand we cannot take who are on the spot." These providences do not always come to pass. The brother concerned does not always discover his unfitness. He is frequently quite satisfied with himself, and remains so to the end of a career long drawn out, with a persistent contentment which would be amusing if its results were not so tragic. The Central Committee does not invariably "find out for itself" the facts we are afraid to communicate, and, as a consequence, the candidate goes successfully through, and in after years, as like as not, becomes a Conferential problem. Often the truest kindness lies in doing the thing hardest to do and most painful to bear, and in the doing of this thing the sacred obligation of the church may consist. Here is a lesson that needs learning and remembering. No man becomes a preacher in Methodism except with the assent and calling of the Church. This must not be forgotten when preachers are being criticised. Do you say that such and such an one ought not to be in the pulpit? It is probably quite true, but it is also true that some Church helped him up the stair. He, poor man! is not the only person to blame for your unsatisfied hunger; your unquenched thirst; your empty pews!
But, to look at this matter of designation more in detail:—We have said that it includes natural fitness and spiritual gifts and is made manifest in a divine revelation to the consciousness of the person concerned. Of this natural fitness, it may go without saying, the gift of public speech will form a part. This should surely be regarded as indispensable, yet how often do we come across instances in which the importance of this prime essential seems to have been altogether overlooked? It is not maintained that every pulpiteer need be a Demosthenes, or that a man must possess the golden mouth of a Chrysostom before he stands up to address his fellows on the concerns of the soul. In these days orators are not numerous, and, if no man be permitted to preach who does not possess this infrequent gift, preachers will be few, while some of the greatest forces of the day will be banished from the pulpit. What is needed is that a man be able to express himself in such a manner as to command and retain the attention of those to whom he speaks, and that, without outraging the just sensibilities of the hearer whom he is sent to bless, he shall be able to tell out the thing that is in him. Congregations are not generally unreasonable in their requirements; indeed, as a rule they are predisposed to indulgence, which has been well for some of us. They do not clamour for an exhibition of elocution twice every Sunday. They do not come to church demanding to hear in every preacher the wonder of his age. But they do ask that a man be audible; that his voice, if not melodious as a silver bell, be human; that his pronunciation, if not faultless, be distinct, and his delivery without painful hesitancy or torrential rush. Surely these requirements are reasonable enough, and it is, at least, open to question whether a man who, manifestly, can never be able to meet expectations so moderate should consider himself, or be deemed by others, as unmistakably marked out for a preacher of the word.
Along with the gift of utterance to be required in the man who is designated to the pulpit will, almost invariably, be found a mind studiously inclined. The days are gone when it was held that study for the work of preaching the Gospel involved dishonour to the Holy Spirit and unbelief concerning the promise of the divine enlightenment and guidance. The words of Paul to Timothy are now accepted as a necessary principle of pulpit preparation. "Study to shew thyself a workman needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," wrote the Apostle; but it is not every man who is gifted for study. Books, to some, are irksome, and much study a weariness to the flesh. They "simply cannot do it," try as ever they may. Now we will not say that such a man can never become a preacher. We will not even say that he can never become a great preacher. There are some great students who read few printed books—unconscious students, you might almost call them. Again, some men arrive at great truths through intuition, and by natural endowment of words are able to express them with an artless art beyond the power of academies to teach. We must never forget that some of our greatest and most successful preachers have been "failures" at college and "hopelessly out of it" in examinations. Still, such men are exceptions, and exceptions who, in almost every instance, have, in various ways, given such proof of their exceptional endowments that there has been little danger of their lack of bookishness proving a barrier to their election for labours for which they were, from obvious evidences, designed. Notwithstanding all that may be said of these exceptional cases it should be wisely and carefully discussed whether the man who always prefers the street to the study, the crowd to the class, the newspaper to the treatise, was ever meant to spend his life in instructing his fellows in matters that call for the deepest thoughts of men.
It is, however, quite possible that a man may have gifts of public speech, and possess a studious disposition, and still be without the preaching mind. Such a mind will be more sensitive to spiritual truths and influences than the average intellect. It will manifest a talent for religion, a natural interest in things that are divine and heavenly for their own sake and not merely because they are to form the themes for appointed discourses. The "delight," as well as the life work, of such a mind will be in the Law of the Lord. Its possessor will not find himself hopelessly bored by the study of theology any more than the born physician will find himself hopelessly bored by the study of physiology or anatomy or pathology or materia medica. Again, to the preaching mind spiritual vision and spiritual hearing will commonly be attended with less effort than in the case of most men; though even the preacher will find that there are times and times. Spiritualism talks of its "mediums," some of whom are said to "see" while others are said to "hear." The preaching mind will be in the best sense both clair-voyant and clair-audient. Call the man a seer, if you will, and speak of preaching as prophecy, and you will describe as well as it can possibly be done the designated preacher and his work. It remains to be predicated that such a man will possess, at least, a more than ordinary endowment of tact and aptness in dealing with men, holding keys to their consciences and their hearts. He will have some special gift of natural power to move his fellows toward the action they would rather not perform. He will abound in that precious sympathy with humanity that feels the truth concerning other lives which it cannot always know. To express our meaning in still another tabloid phrase:—The man meant for the pulpit will possess a genius for spiritual things.
In these few, incomplete lines we have indicated some of the natural gifts whose possession should be held essential to the proof of a man's designation for the preacher's vocation. Before the Church suggests this service to one of her sons she should be satisfied of the presence of these qualifications; not, of course, as matured and perfected talents—that would be to ask the impossible—but as evidenced in signs visible to the searching eye. Before a man yields to such a suggestion, however kindly and urgently expressed, even if it only point to a place on the plan of some struggling rural circuit, he should know that nature has already in some degree fashioned the instrument for the work.
But natural endowments and indications are not—need we say?—the whole necessity. Our fathers talked not only of "gifts" but also of "graces" and of "fruits" as well. The work of religion should be realised by the preacher as a personal experience and prove itself in a life accordant therewith. It is perfectly true that every hearer ought to be as good as the preacher, but, paradoxical as the remark may appear, it is none the less true that the preacher ought to be better than those to whom he preaches. It is an absolutely sound instinct for the fitness of things—an instinct honourable to the preacher's office—which asks that he who discourses concerning the elements of piety, calling upon men to embody them in works of faith and righteousness, should prove his own possession of those elements in the same way. It was laid down of old time that "they must be clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." "Who," asks the Psalmist, "shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully."
So, before the Church sends out a man to preach let her search his life to see not only whether he is able, but, also, whether in his character and deportment grace and truth are so displayed as to give him authority in calling upon others to live the holier life. Let the Church look, too, for some signs of whole-heartedness in religion. Zeal must be regarded as indispensable. We have heard a Circuit Quarterly Meeting refuse to accept the recommendation of a young man for the plan because he invariably failed to attend the Sunday night prayer meeting in his own church. Would that every Quarterly Meeting had the moral and spiritual courage to take so wise and discriminating a course! Further, when the church has asked a man to assume the ministry of the word, let him see to it that he take the candle of the Lord into the secret places of his heart and search diligently therein lest, in going up, he take with him that which will spoil his labours and bring dishonour upon the truth! He had better a thousand times tarry for a more perfect work of God to take place in his soul than do that!
And now comes the greatest and most vital question of all. To a man may be given gifts many and acceptable; he may have received grace for grace; he may have known deep and wonderful experiences of heavenly things, and yet it may not be the will of God that he shall be numbered with the preaching host. There are other noble kinds of work demanding all the qualifications already named, and his powers may be given to be expended in one of these. The preacher's designation, therefore, is never complete until the Holy Spirit has spoken in his soul the direct command of God. This must be clear and unmistakable. Personal desire and ambition so often lead men astray. "Beloved, try every spirit whether it be of God." This is a word to be followed here. If only it had always been remembered how many tragedies had been averted!
For God does directly call those whom He will for this office, and those whom He so calls will certainly recognise His voice. This is assumed everywhere in the Scriptures. This is proved in the experience of the ages. How often in the Old Testament do we find the record of such a revelation? Samuel in the Temple, in the darkness and silence of the night, hears with the ears of childhood the word that invites him to his destiny. To Isaiah, "in the year that King Uzziah died," comes in the Holy Place from "a throne high and lifted up" the question, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" and he answers, "Here am I, send me." In the terms of these histories is enshrined the story of the vivid way in which the Almighty revealed His will to the conscience of men of old time. The narratives of the New Testament still further illustrate the manner of the divine compelling. How urgent His call may be, is heard in such a cry as this; "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!" Here was a man to whom preaching was no personal ambition, no mere means of livelihood, who, indeed, "wrought with his own hands that he might not be chargeable to any." To Paul this ministry was a divine compulsion; a duty only to be escaped at the cost of spiritual peace, of the serenity of perfect obedience. In all generations this experience has been repeated. Read the life stories of those who have wrought great works with the hammer of the word, and in every such record you will certainly light upon a page upon which will be told the story of the call that could not be disobeyed. The older biographies of our own preachers abound in accounts of how they were spoken to from on high. In those days there was little earthly advantage to be gained from the work of a Primitive Methodist preacher, itinerant or local. Persecutions were many and the labour was hard—very hard. Often do we read of men struggling to escape from the order which had come unto them, and only yielding at last, because, for love of Him who entreated them, they could do no other. "Sent by my Lord," they cried, "on you I call!"
And this clear word which came to men of old time, which has always come to the man whose work was to lie in the breaking of the bread of life—this clear word must still be regarded as essential to a perfect designation. Of course, there is but one man to whom this supreme indication will be apparent, the man to whom the voice has come; so that with the preacher, himself, lies the final responsibility of his presence in the pulpit—a sent, or unsent, man. Do we say that it is to ask a hard thing to insist that no one shall preach who cannot say confidently that he knows himself to have been moved of God to this place and labour? Hard, perhaps, it may seem, but "strait is the gate and narrow is the way" into this excelling service. There are many hard things in the ordinances of the Kingdom, and, perhaps, it has not been well that we have so often sought to broaden the path, to widen the gate. Possibly there might be fewer preachers if all we have laid down were insisted upon, but there might be more power; there might be more success.
Designation made plain by gifts, graces and an inward sense of Divine election—this then is the first essential in the man. The recollection of this will prevent the office of the preacher from being regarded simply as a profession. When a man enters the ministry "for a living," or because, forsooth, he has social aspirations, he has taken a downward, and not an upward, step. When he comes into the work because all his nature, all his experiences, all the results of religion in his heart and life urge him on, the Lord saying "Go thou and I will be with thee," then glorious is his calling, and glorious will be his record when the day is done!
Things to be Realized.
It is absolutely essential to the successful preaching of the Gospel that the preacher should realise the greatness and dignity of his position; and having once come into this realisation, it is also essential to continuance in well-doing that he abide in it. In himself he may have little in which to glory, but in his calling he has much indeed.
For what is the Christian preacher? He is the very messenger of Jesus Christ to men. He belongs to an order founded and recruited by the Master Himself. First He sent out "the seventy," who probably soon returned; afterwards He sent forth "the twelve," armed with a permanent commission. When, in the ranks of this early band, a vacancy arose through the unfaithfulness of one of its members, He made choice of another. From the opened skies He arrested Saul in his journey to Damascus that he might be a chosen vessel to bear the truth to the Gentiles. From that day to this He has been calling and sending, not less really, a succession of men every one of whom might with Paul have called himself an ambassador of the King of Kings. Of course there were preachers before the apostles and there was preaching before Pentecost. The prophets were preachers, and mighty was their proclamation of the divine message—so mighty that though addressed primarily to their contemporaries it lives and burns to-day. Later, in the period lying between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, there were notable preachers in Israel who kept alive the Messianic hope and sought to "prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight." There was preaching in the synagogues in our Lord's own day, and He but observed an established custom when, "entering into the synagogue" at Nazareth, as was His practice "on the Sabbath day," "He stood up for to read," and "there was brought unto Him the book of the Prophet Esaias." He had a text that day, and He preached from it, and, if the end of His discourse was that He was thrust out of the synagogue and was like to have been put to death, it was because of the unwelcomeness of the word He spoke, and not because He had introduced a new order of service into the sanctuary of an intensely conservative people. He preached in the synagogues of Capernaum, too, "and they were astonished at His doctrine, for the word was with power." John the Baptist was a preacher who was more than a prophet, and to his preaching doubtless the Lord Himself listened more than once. "And John began to say unto men everywhere repent." Such seems to have been the burden of his message until that hour when he suddenly found his sweetest music and cried "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." Yes, there were preachers before Christ, and long previous to His coming "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching" to save them that believed. Jesus, however, gave to the order of the preacher a new institution. He put upon the lips of His servants a new message. They were to go, no longer to the children of one favoured nation only, but "out into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." From all classes did He gather the men upon whom He put this glorious burden. Here was a fisherman fresh from his toil upon the deep; here a publican newly come up from the receipt of custom; here a husbandman from distant farm or vineyard, and each was commanded to go "in My name." Each was the representative, the ambassador of the King. Each was promised His help; each the baptism through which memory was to be quickened to recall the words He had spoken—the baptism which was to explain sentences which, at the moment of their utterance, were full of perplexing and affrighting mystery to such as heard. Almost His very last words on earth concerned their mission. Then came Pentecost, the gift of power, the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the waiting company in the Upper Room. Signs and wonders filled the hour. The word was with assurance and ran like fire among dry stubble. The multitude was pricked to the heart. Soon followed the Herodian persecution, and the preaching band was scattered abroad. As a result "they went everywhere preaching the word." So the voice of the preacher proclaiming the new faith was heard throughout the countries of Asia Minor and in learned Greece and warlike Rome, on Mars Hill where walked and taught the philosophers in the presence of the admiring and novelty-seeking sons of Athens, in the palace of the Caesars whence ran the currents filling the arteries of the world. Westward, Eastward, all over the known earth they went, and still they preached, until, in years that seem very few, when we think of all that had to be done to make true the boast, it was said "the Christians are everywhere."
And no preacher has ever risen to any true sublimity of service and success who has not connected his own place, and his own work, with the events of this great history. He is of the same company as were Peter, Paul, John, James, Apollos. The spiritual dignity conferred upon him, the responsibility laid upon his shoulders, are of the same kind as were theirs. We stand for a doctrine of Apostolic Succession, but it is not a succession dependent upon a ceremonial ordination dispensed by a privileged and ghostly class. It is a succession of gifts, of graces, of commission, of power, of victory. The true preacher is God's messenger. Does he stand before thousands—a man of learning, of eloquence, of far flung fame? His highest glory is not in any one of these things, but in the fact that his commission is divine. Does he plod—a poor "local brother" from mine or loom or plough or forge—along dark lanes and over wild moorlands, in order that in some distant and lowly village sanctuary he may speak to a few simple souls of heavenly things? Let him not be depressed by the toil of the journey; let him not be disheartened by the smallness of the audience. Rather let him lift up his head in humble pride that he is counted worthy to make this errand, to utter this testimony, for in the King's stead he goes, and in the King's name he speaks!
A great, good thing would it be if only the divinity of their calling could be brought home to all who minister among us—brought home, we mean, as a constantly realised truth, warming always and inspiring the hearts of our preachers and giving confidence and authority to their word. The oft-quoted prayer, "Lord, give us a good conceit of ourselves," might well be offered with some small change of terms. We do need a "good conceit" of our office. From such a conceit so many great thoughts would flow, such a sense of the importance of our task! We should hear less complaint concerning "poor appointments"; we should hear less criticism of the sermons of humble but sincere men, if preacher and people alike remembered that this commission was given on the steps of the throne. Let the preacher think small things of the preaching office and small service will be the inevitable result, small sermons, small faithfulness, small harvests when the reaping time shall come. Let the preacher live in the great facts of his history! Let him realise—he cannot magnify—his office! This is the word we would speak into every preacher's ear throughout our Church. There would be little murmuring concerning poor sermons and forgotten appointments if only this fact could win home. We are persuaded that the cause of much of the poor and careless preaching, the preaching that is perfunctory and cold and lifeless, lies in this:—That here and there are preachers who have never realised the glory of their delegation.
Another realisation into which the preacher must come before his preaching can reach its highest possibilities, both as to quality and results; and in which he must abide if his ministry has to remain upon the heights, is that of the supreme distinction of the message he has to proclaim. It is a divine message which has been divinely entrusted to him for conveyance to his fellow-men. In regard to this, too, he must occupy and speak from high ground. He is not merely one among the world's many teachers, not simply one among the many speculators who come with theories first ingeniously spun by the spindles of imagination, then woven in the looms of logic. He brings not a theory but a revelation. He is not "one of the philosophers" classified and catalogued with the rest. He is a messenger. Behind him is One who sent him; and the message is not a philosophy but a "way." It is neither a guess, nor a speculation, nor a deduction; it is God's word to men!
Now it may seem a needless thing to insist with such emphasis upon this view of the substance of true Christian preaching, a view that we hear and repeat almost every day; but it is not so needless a thing as may appear. Is it not true that some preachers condescend too much from the word given unto them? Is it not a fact that some of us fail from very wont and use to live in the thought that our message is as far above every message as the Name it reveals is "above every name"? Has the preacher never been guilty of turning aside from this theme of his to what the Apostle called "cunningly devised fables"? It seemed to him that the old story had become so well worn that, for the sake of a little novelty, which might, perhaps, attract the people who stayed away, he might turn into some subject less hackneyed than the staple stock of pulpit addresses. The reason was a very plausible one, and the preacher altogether sincere. The people did come to hear him, too, as they had not come concerning the other matters he had been used to expound. There was a little mild sensation, and sensation is an agreeable variant of the dulness of grey and monotonous years. Most folks were pleased, it seemed—indeed all were pleased who were of "any real account." Many people even waxed complimentary and the preacher had hard work to keep his humility in flower. The only people who complained were those survivals of far past ages whose antediluvian notions accord so ill with the progressive spirit of our times. Of course they grumbled a little; said the preacher gave them less than the best, that he went to the newspapers for his subjects and to—Heaven-only-knew-where for the treatment of the "topics" so selected. They complained, too, that the only advantage of leaving the old wells was that the effervescence of the new beverage drew larger congregations of a sort to whom effervescence is everything and they even made the amazing statement that the great purpose of preaching was not, after all, to draw great congregations which might be accomplished in association with failure as well as in association with success, but to change the hearts and lives of men and nations. They were actually so unkind as to remark that of this latter kind of work there could be little done excepting as a result of faithfulness to "the old Gospel"—a term getting, nowadays, rather out of date. They said this, and they claimed to prove the statement by figures they unkindly produced. The thing for the preacher to do, they contended, was the work he was sent to do. The greatest subjects possible to him were the subjects given unto him. Christ's word, they held, was infinitely better worth repetition and interpretation than any other "word" the world had ever heard. Who shall say these critics were wrong? The preacher falls below the splendour of his high calling when he turns from the thoughts of God to the dreams of men.
Of this mistake, however, there need be little fear if in his own soul the preacher dwell upon the glory of his "treasure," the preciousness of the seed he has to sow. "Thus saith the Lord." With these words he will refresh his faith and courage what time he challenges the attention and demands the reverence of men. "God hath spoken, once have I heard this; nay twice," so he sings to his spirit as he enters into controversy with those to whom he is sent. "Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord," thus may he invite rebellious men into confidence concerning all those things that matter to the soul. To him, even him, God hath revealed Himself. Through the written word has He spoken directly to his heart and mind. To his prayerful inquiry and diligent searching has He made known His will, his mind being chosen as the organ of a revelation, honouring his devout spirit and earnest striving to know the truth. Through the varying phases of the experience of this messenger of His He has shown him the deep things of God and disclosed new applications of truths already known. God reveals Himself to men to-day. Let us at least allow ourselves the joy of believing that He has no favourites; that London or New York is as dear to Him as Jerusalem; that He will, and does speak as certainly through the prophets of our times as through those of any far-off century in the history of the race. Of this high doctrine every new sermon ought to bring fresh proof to the preacher's own soul as well as to the people who hear the latest word from heaven through the spokesman of the skies. So the wonder grows!—An ambassador of the King, speaking the King's own word, spoken to me by the King Himself, my heart burning within me the while He talked with me by the way, my own soul growing strong in the incoming strength of living truth warm from the lips of God! Stand we here—each for himself? Indeed we must do so; for unless we do, abiding in this consciousness as to our calling and our work, we shall lack full furnishing for toil and accomplishment, for noble battle, for glorious victory!
And if it comes to pass that sometimes the preacher fails to realise the greatness of his position and the true distinction of his message, and that his preaching suffers loss of effectiveness as a result of such failure, it also comes to pass, not infrequently, that he fails to realise, as he should, the great purpose his efforts are meant to serve. This failure also must hinder his preaching of the success it should command. Behind the labours of the humblest of the preaching army lies the purpose which lay back of all God's dealing with the race, which moved Him to give His only begotten Son; the purpose for which He who was rich and for our sakes became poor, came to earth and "was found in fashion as a man." The purpose behind the preaching of the preacher is one with the purpose behind the cross; it is, in short, that purpose of infinite love which contemplates and designs the salvation of the race. "The Son of Man is come into the world to seek and to save that which was lost." "That which was lost!" The meaning of this word is surely not exhausted in the application of the text to individual wanderers however great their number. The whole world "was lost," and to seek and to save the world, "from the rivers to the ends of the earth," He came—to bring back all humanity to faith, obedience, love, purity, happiness and glory.
For the attainment of the highest possibilities wrapped up in himself and his work the preacher must be possessed by this imperial design. He must feel that he is fighting in a campaign for world conquest—for that and no smaller end. We hear, in these days, a good deal about imperialism in politics. We are encouraged to teach this imperialism to our children, and the argument advanced in support of the advice is that the learning of the lesson will have influence on the way in which the scholar will perform the humblest tasks awaiting him in life. The Imperialist, it is said, will find himself saved by his imperialism from sordid views and actions, from all temptation to make small personal ends the measure of his service as the days go by. Experience, alas! has hardly justified the prophecy. We have seen the well instructed and professed Imperialist display much the same infirmities and proclivities as other men. We have heard of him speaking of the British flag, that most sacred symbol of his faith and hope, which it is his high mission to plant on every shore, as an "asset"; and we have found that questions relating to dividends were not altogether alien to his proud determination to "fling the red line further yet." But there is an imperialism in religion which has a happier history. That man possesses it who thinks of every blow struck for God as a blow struck in an age-long and world-wide warfare. This imperialism does redeem the days, and has a royal and quickening effect upon the labours of all who are in bondage to its spell. Such an imperialist is no longer the servant of this denomination or that, a mere agent hunting recruits for his own little connexional "interest." He may seek to attach men to his Church, but only because that Church is part of the great confederacy of states-divine. He goes to his appointment in yonder tiny hamlet, where but few are assembling to hear him, as went out Alexander to subdue the nations to his will. It is often said, and it is a saying too often received with small approval, that the Church which does most for the support and advocacy of missions to the heathen invariably does most for the spread of the Gospel within its own district as well. The saying, we repeat, is not always received with enthusiastic approval, but it is true nevertheless, and it is capable of easy explanation. This superior devotion to the spreading of the Gospel at home follows as a direct result of a realisation of that Gospel's all-embracing, all-conquering purpose. That purpose must be realised by the Church if she would get unto herself the victory. With no meaner proposals must she go into battle, or else the chariot wheels will run heavily and the young men will faint and be weary. What is true for the Church is, if possible, still more true for the preacher, for the tasks of leadership and inspiration are in his hands. He must hold firmly to the ideal of a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness. To labour for this, and no meaner dream, must be his constant and unfailing resolve.
And how are we to keep this sublime purpose of God ever in recollection, making it our own? Ah! here is a question! We have all heard and assented to this grand design of infinite love. We all believe that "through the ages one increasing purpose runs." But to believe in the sense that we do not disbelieve, is one thing, and profoundly and constantly and vitally to realise a truth is another. It is so easy to forget a belief when everything around us seems to contradict the possibility of its fulfilment. The labour of the preacher is often very hard; often, in its immediate results, extremely disappointing. The present and immediate care, the difficulty to be faced here and now, so much concern and so much, at times, depress us. So much effort must be put forth even to keep living, so much patience even to hold up under the burden, that it is little wonder if, at times, we forget that our strenuous struggle is in fulfilment of a great plan to eventuate in the accomplishment of an eternal purpose. If we do hold the thought it is too often only in a theoretic way. It does not dominate us as it should, and as it would if once it seized us by the heart. Perhaps, more than in the case of most things to be realised, it requires great grace to make the soul able to grasp it. Perhaps, again, the purpose of God seems to ask more from us than we care to give, and the fear of the sacrifice required blinds us to the glory of that purpose. As long as the preacher's programme is parochial or merely patriotic his preaching will lack the clarion note. Small conceptions of the will of God make mean service. God's intention is to reign on earth as He reigns in Heaven. Let us live in this assurance if we would help His kingdom in.
But there is still more to be realised before the preacher has grasped all the golden truth with which God would fortify and cheer him for the task he is sent out to perform. Did we say that he must come into a consciousness of the true dignity of his office? Did we point out his need to discern the true glory of his message, which is that it alone is the message that is indeed from the heart of God? Did we emphasise the preacher's need of a clear view of the infinite, loving purpose behind the work he is sent to carry through? To all this he must add a clear and constant vision of the victory to come. In that vision he must live as though the music of the triumph were already falling upon his ear. There is no room in the pulpit for pessimists or pessimism. The man who thinks that the world is growing worse, and will grow worse, and still worse, moving down the slopes of inevitable perdition until the final catastrophe shall burst upon it—that man has no right to pose as a preacher of the gospel of glad tidings to men. Not so did His Master look forward to the days to come when "for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame." Such a vision was not in His eyes when He said, "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." Failure! That is a possibility the preacher must not admit, even in secret to himself, if he would not find his strength stolen and grey hairs upon him here and there!
And in the spirit of victory he not only must, but may live. There have been darker ages than this in which the preachers have alone held up the lamp of hope. Times of apparent unfruitfulness do come, times of drought do fall upon us, but they pass, for silently, secretly God works on and on. Let us believe in Him. His are the yet uncounted years. He prepareth His ways in the darkness, "and He will bring it to pass." In that faith alone is great, true and mighty preaching possible.
Thus, with somewhat of the seer, Must the moral pioneer, From the future borrow; Clothe the waste with dreams of grain, And on midnight's sky of rain Paint the golden morrow.
The Need for Certainty.
One of the most obvious lessons to be learned from a study of church history is a lesson teaching the necessity of the positive note in the pulpit. The great ages of Christianity have been those in which affirmation has been clear and definite and strong. The great preachers of the past have ever been positive preachers, men whose assurance concerning their message was heard in every tone of their voices, who knew in whom they had believed. Especially has this been true of those whose ministrations have been the means of great revivals of religion as seen in the awakening of zeal within the Church and the salvation of sinners. How positive were the Wesleys! How sure was Whitefield! How absolutely certain of things were the fathers of our own Church! How real to them were God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. They were narrow, perhaps. Possibly they were often intolerant. It may have been the case that they were rather too ready to damn every one who disagreed with them as to the interpretation of the truth of God. They may not have always displayed a sweet and brotherly reluctance to brand as a heretic any person whose creed was a little more hopeful than their own. It might possibly be shown that there is some truth in the suggestion that they were not always able to render a reason for their convictions with an intelligence and a wealth of knowledge proportionate to the strength with which they held them. But they did know where they were. They could identify themselves among theologians. They were ready with a confession of faith. This is so, and this and this, they could say. That will come to pass, and that and that, they affirmed, as if they saw it all enacted before them. The result of this strong believing was seen in the production of strong belief and, better still, of determined action in those to whom they preached; for belief is at least as infectious as doubt, as the records of spiritual movements and the biographies of religious leaders of all schools will prove. There was no theorising in those camp-meeting sermons to which the people of this land were listening a hundred years ago; no "honest doubt" in those invitations heard upon the greens of the villages and in the market-places of the towns while yet the last century was young. Here were preachers as sure of their message as they were of their own existence. Of "mental reservations" they knew nothing. They had never even heard the term. They dealt in "wills" and "shalls"; not in "peradventures" or "maybes." They said of a thing "it is" or "it is not." They went up into such pulpits as they possessed, not to conduct a public inquiry after truth, but to declare it. They were not out in search of a gospel adapted to the needs of the age. They had found the one sure way of life adapted to this and every other time. This they cried aloud, and then lifting up their voices in song, "Turn to the Lord and seek salvation," they went marching on, while men followed enquiring with weeping eyes, "What must we do to be saved?"
Such was the preaching of our fathers, crude enough, much of it, no doubt; lacking, perhaps, many of the literary excellencies and graces of the preaching of our later days, yet mighty because of its very sureness, because of its splendid dogmatism. The complaint goes that the pulpit of our time lacks this positive note; that by word or tone the preacher conveys the impression that he is "not quite sure." It is reported that he suggests where once he proclaimed, surmises where once he declared. It is alleged that people are turning away from the churches because they can obtain no certain answer to the questions of the soul. Instead of quoting a "Yea" or a "Nay," they report replies to the effect that probably the answer should be "Yea," but that, as we are at present passing through "a period of transition," as all our creeds are "in the melting pot," we must wait a little while for an absolutely categorical reply, preserving, in the meantime, an open mind and a trusting heart. For purposes of consolation, and to encourage them to this trustfulness of spirit, they are told, so they relate, that "devout men are at work upon the sacred documents;" that other men, equally devout, are reconsidering the doctrines, and that, among it all, the preacher does not worry, but, with admirable calm, waits and trusts, knowing "that in the end his position will be stronger than ever for the surrender of a few defenceless outposts." By preaching such as this possibilities are suggested which, it is said, cause more concern than comfort to the man in search of definite guidance on the most serious and vital subjects with which the mind is called upon to deal. Another statement we have heard:—That as this kind of thing is met with almost exclusively in Protestantism it works out largely to the advantage of the Roman Catholic Church. Few weeks pass by in which we do not read of this or that well-known person who has "gone over." As only the more prominent "converts" are mentioned in the press we may be sure that the number of unknown and relatively unimportant people who secede from Protestantism is much greater than is known. From one of this multitude came a little while ago an explanation of the step he had taken:—"The Roman Church knows what she believes. Her priests are positive. I cannot risk my soul upon a theory; I want a fact!"
Now it is quite possible that this complaint is greatly an exaggeration. It is certain that many are blamed while comparatively few are guilty. It is quite possible to be too much disturbed and alarmed by criticisms of the Church and her preachers. These criticisms do not all come from the sincerest friendliness; neither are they always absolutely without bias, or invariably founded upon extensive observation. The Church at her worst has always been better—she always will be better—than her enemies allow. The same is true of preaching. Still it is wise to ask ourselves, when a criticism is laid against either Church or preacher, whether there may not be a grain or two of truth to the bushel of chaff. It would be a misfortune if in our contempt for this same chaff we should lose the corn hidden there. Where there is smoke it is well to remember there is always, at least, a smoulder of fire. Grant that much has been made of little, which is a weakness of the critic in every time, and that all the rumour has resulted simply from some lack of definiteness on the part of a few. Grant, also, that as the criminal is always far more talked about for his transgression than the honest man for his honesty, so the man who betrays his doubts in the pulpit is far more discussed than the ninety-and-nine sure men who go on their unsensational way according to standards made and received from old time amongst us. Grant all this, and it will still remain to be said that the preaching of the present day, in those churches where the right of private judgment on matters of faith and doctrine is recognised, would, to make the least of it, be all the better for a more positive tone.
But how has it come to pass that there should have occurred, even in the small degree in which we admit it, a loss of the sureness which means so much in the preaching of the word of truth? The question is a large one, and to answer it fully much more than all the paper composing this book would be required. It may be that the spirit of the age is not a spirit favourable to belief. In some periods faith is glorified; in others, doubt. In these days, it might be thought from much we hear, a little scepticism is the one sure evidence of intellectuality; while steadfastness in the creed of one's youth proves the possession of a dull and narrow mind and the existence of that hopeless mental condition known as fossilisation. Ours are the days of science, and science has frightened some people terribly concerning religion, though it would almost appear that she is now beginning, in some measure, to repent, and is turning to soothe the timorous souls whom she formerly terrified. Ours are days of criticism too, and the criticism has largely been concerned with the very writings wherein are recorded those words upon which we have relied as containing the way of life. Some things said to have been discovered have disturbed us a little, though why they should have done so it is difficult, upon reflection, to see. We have been too prone, perhaps, to surrender ourselves to such a feeling as is natural to those anxious moments when, having called a consultant to the bedside of a sick friend, we have just uttered the request, "Now, Doctor, tell us candidly the worst." All these things would be mentioned in the long history which would be needed fully to narrate the causes of the slight slackening of faith noted here and there; but, for all the importance which would probably be ascribed to each in turn, they are not the only reasons; they are not even the chief reasons. Those, we are bold to say, are not intellectual, but moral and spiritual!
And these moral and spiritual causes of doubt in relation to eternal and divine things will emerge as we proceed to try to answer the question, which now arises, as to how we can recover that measure of certainty which we have lost, and which we must regain, with additions, if we would achieve that power in the work of preaching which is needed to turn the hearts of men towards God and goodness. Notwithstanding all that may be said as to the difficulties of the situation, we venture to think that the lines upon which confidence may be won back again are not impossible of discernment.
For, simple as the suggestion may be; lacking all flavour of the extraordinary as it does; without novelty and confessedly old-fashioned; we have but this to commend to all who waver and doubt, to all whose voices falter as they seek to utter the mighty affirmations of the Gospel:—That the way to win again the old assurance is to come back to the source of their sublime vocation, determined, whatever may befall, there to abide all the long and trying day. "Reach hither thy finger," He said to the doubter whose faith had well-nigh died for loss of a few days' open vision, "Reach hither thy finger and behold My hands and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side and be not faithless but believing." The spirit of St. Thomas comes upon us all at times, perhaps more often in youth than age. Occasionally it comes uninvited; sometimes, alas! we open the door and bid it enter. There is but one way of escaping this spirit, and it is recorded in this old history. Surely for doubting souls in all ages was this experience of Thomas written down!
The way of certainty is the way of the extended hand. Ultimately the preacher's faith depends upon the use he makes of his own spiritual opportunities. "If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." There is an intimate connection between intellectual results and moral and spiritual conditions. The surrender of the will to God is always followed by an increase of spiritual intelligence. That this is true we have seen proved unnumbered times as lowly piety has revealed sublimities of faith and trust. Spiritual things are, and must be, spiritually discerned.
And this is not so hard to understand as may appear. A life surrendered to the will of God is of all lives the most peaceful and composed. It is lived in an atmosphere of repose. In such an atmosphere the mind has an opportunity of looking upon the great spiritual mysteries in the light proper to their contemplation and consideration. It is a life of good works too, and good works tend to establish the gospel by which they were inspired. It would not be easy—we had almost said it would be impossible—to find a man engaged in hard and constant toil for Jesus Christ who would complain that he suffers from doubt as to the truth of the faith he serves. Unbelief is not unfrequently the penalty of indolence. It might in many instances be found possible to trace the doubts of men to their slackness in the service of God.
The same spiritual laws as regulate the experience of every saint of God regulate those of the preacher. His Sabbath note will be according to his week-day living. Let him be all the week absorbed in material things only; let him seek only his own gratification, only his own wealth or pleasure or advantage; let him walk only in the lower paths, and he must not be surprised if, as he stands up upon the Sabbath, his voice be found to have lost the old ring of joyful and glorious assertion. He must not be astonished if his grasp of heavenly mysteries and promises and provisions be slack, and if, as a result, he speaks in halting tones. If his daily walk be far from the side of his Lord, he must not wonder if other spirits find their way to his ear and fill it with whispers of doubt and fear which make his testimony hesitant and of small effect for good. We say he must not be surprised at these things. No, nor must he find the reasons for this weakening of his faith in the message itself, though that will inevitably be the chief temptation of such dangerous hours. He should ask first concerning the life he is living, whether it is of a sort to make faith an easy thing. He should ask concerning his personal observance of the Master's counsel of prayer and self-denial and cross-bearing. It is pleasanter, no doubt, to seek the reasons for one's unbelief in intellectual than in moral directions. The former method may flatter us a little; the latter is often very painful!
And yet by inquiring as to our moral condition the whole secret will often be discovered. There is also another question to ask:—If we understand the promises of our Lord, in even a slight degree, He gives to all whom He calls into the holy ministry the assurance of a Comforter who will guide them into all truth, and bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever He has said. Are we quite able, we who are afflicted with doubts which sometimes make it hard to preach, are we quite able to say that we have honoured Him in putting His promises to the proof as we might have done? Was not one of the Master's words to us "It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak"? There was no uncertainty in the Upper Room in that glad but awful moment when the pledge of the ages was fulfilled to the children of the new and better covenant. Let us seek that experience again. Let us begin our quest at the cross, with a prayer for forgiveness, and a vow of reconsecration. Let us wait upon Him for a renewal of that divine outpouring of which He has never disappointed His chosen messengers when they have sought it at His hand, meanwhile denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him. Let us but obtain that baptism, and all our crippling and alarming scepticisms will vanish, and the full round tone of fearless confidence return. Such a return is the need of the present hour—spiritual certainty in an age of materialism, the one sure antidote for all its cares. Thus only can come that revival of religion for which we have sighed and looked so long. Be assured that there can be no such work of grace as this unless the message of the pulpit be with definiteness and confidence. Here would the answer to many a question, the solution of many a problem be found. Hearers would be conscious of a new tone in the delivery of the weekly word. Truth would be spoken as if it were truth indeed, and in their very consciences men would know it to be true. No longer would the way of life be pointed with trembling finger. Once again the ambassador would stand forth in all his royal glory and cry "Thus saith the Lord," and now Sinai's thunders, now Calvary's gales of grace, would give majesty and tenderness to his voice!
Such is the way back to certainty, if certainty in any of us have been lost for a little while. Yet, even as we name it, there comes again to our ears the old enquiry so often heard as an explanation of durance in Doubting Castle:—How does all this accord with the advice constantly given to men to seek to win each a creed for himself? Is it not a man's duty to make his inherited beliefs and the things which are told him the subjects of his individual inquiry and of his own personal judgment and proof? Yes; all this is true but other things are true as well.
The first of them is surely this:—That a man should have won this creed for himself before he set out to provide a creed for other people. Once more, preaching is not a public inquiry after truth but a declaration of it. The man who has not got beyond the stage of inquiry has no right to be in the pulpit at all. Some preachers are always making confessions as to their difficulties. It ought to be seen that the people do not come to hear of the preacher's difficulties, but to be helped in their own. Another thing that is true is this:—That it is surely not the best way of winning a creed to begin by doubting the truth of everything in order to get at the truth of something, as many seem to do. Surely it is not the best way of winning a belief of one's own to conduct an inquiry with the object of finding how much is false of the things we have been taught. Why not begin with the purpose of finding out how much is true? Why not seek for confirmations as well as for contradictions? It is surely something to the credit of the things instilled into us as children that unnumbered generations of great and holy and thoughtful men have found in them their spiritual sustenance and salvation. It might have a helpful effect to ask why it should be left to you or me, so late in time as the beginning of the twentieth century, to make the discovery that the faith which has inspired "saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs," which has saved its millions, satisfying the deepest longings of the heart and the highest demands of the intellect; the faith which has inspired the purity, the benevolence, the courage and endurance of a long, long past—is only in a very limited and partial degree the truth of God. A due appreciation of the significance of history ought, it might seem, to be enough to make it appear, even to the youngest and most daring of us, an impossible thing that teaching which has produced such triumphs can be false.
Then as to this search for "a creed for himself" which, we are reminded, it is every man's duty to make:—It also remains to be said that for success in this pursuit, as for success in some other pursuits, an observance of spiritual laws is needful. A man should seek for his creed as prayerfully as he seeks for any help of which he ever finds himself in need. The path of prayer is the path of light and of truth. The mistake often made is this, that we try to find this creed without seeking the help of God. "I will be inquired of saith the Lord."
One more question:—Is the possession of this certainty consistent with progress? Are we not told to expect new light as years pass on? Has not every preacher the right to look upon himself as the possible organ of new revelations to his fellows? Even so; but light will not contradict light. As the glimmer of the dawn grows into the brilliance of the day, the rays of the sun, falling ever more brightly upon the landscape, bring more clearly into view the features which at first were dim and dreamlike. As the glory creeps over vale and hill, touching here a winding river, there a patch of vivid green, yonder a window of some distant dwelling, new points of beauty and interest are continually being revealed; but the scene, though better discerned, is still the same as first burst upon our view at the moment when the sun leaped into the firmament from behind yon eastern hill. Further revelations we may indeed look for, but they will only be new chapters of the "old, old story," and "continuations" at that. They are for confirmation, not disturbance. God cannot contradict Himself. No one was more sure of the law-givers than the prophets; no one more in accord with the prophets than the apostles. Our Lord came not to destroy but to fulfil.
So then certainty is consistent with progress; with an attitude of receptivity toward new light. A firm belief in what the Lord told us yesterday is harmonious with an eagerness to hear what He may have to add to-day. It is indeed to be regarded as proof of our faith in yesterday's communication that we hearken for to-day's word. Certainty is possible to the preacher, and certainty he must have!
Yes, certainty he must have; for the people ask for it, and have a right to demand it from those who stand up in God's name to teach them His way. We have read of blind guides, "blind leaders of the blind." Such a leadership is that of the preacher who has no sure word to speak. For his own soul's sake the ambassador must have certainty, for what life can be more wretched than the life of a man set up to proclaim a message doubted of his own spirit. For God's sake; for the sake of the Gospel to be uttered; for the sake of the high purpose of that Gospel he must be sure. Without certainty there can be no truly effective and successful preaching!
Another essential quality of the effective and successful messenger of Christ is individuality.
The preaching of the truth is, after all, man's work for the sake of man, and the man is needful to the completeness of the definition. It has ever been God's way to work His will and reveal Himself to mankind through members of their own race. He does not speak to the nations in a supernatural voice rolling over the land. He does not write His word across the arch of the sky in any way plainer than in that language of which the stars are syllables. It is true that everywhere the inscription of His power and Godhead may be seen; but neither in nature, nor in history, nor in human instincts does He declare Himself on the deeper needs of the soul. His way is to use men whom He calls, trains and equips. Even Jesus, Himself, came in fashion as a man, that He might speak with the speech of a man to the generations for whom He was to die. One meaning of this must surely be that true preaching derives power from the man himself as well as from the truth expressed. In His infinite resourcefulness the Creator has made all men different. Wonderful it is, but true, there are no two men who are, in all things, each a duplicate of the other. Physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, every man is another man. We speak of the average man; really there is no such being. No average can be struck which takes account of all that every man is and includes every quality and peculiarity of body, mind and spirit. Each birth is a new creation. Here comes one into the world to occupy a new point of view. He will see things with other eyes; he will hear them with other ears. He will relate them in his own way, if only he be permitted to do so. Should he become a preacher, the message will be new in his newness. It will gather something for its commendation to the few or to the many, in that this man looks upon it from his own standpoint and expresses it in his own tongue.
It is sometimes complained that in these days the pulpit is in danger of losing that which the individuality of the preacher should bring into it, for the reason that such individuality is being improved out of existence. "There are few personalities that count nowadays," we are told. Time was when there were more. Names occur to all of us, each of which stands in our mind for someone who, as we put it, was a man of himself. All Churches have had such men; our own was rich in them. To-day, they tell us, we are all in real danger of becoming decorously, decently, conventionally alike. We have conceived a typical preacher and we try to approximate to our conception; a typical sermon, and we try to preach it. "He is a typical curate," "a typical Presbyterian minister," "a typical Baptist pastor," "a typical Methodist travelling preacher;" "he is a typical local"—how often we hear these expressions!
It may be well to give to this complaint at least so much consideration as to ask whether it is true. At once we may say, if it is "the truth," it is not "the whole truth," neither is it "nothing but the truth." There are still among us, thank God! preachers who bring the aroma of individuality into their ministrations, and are a brand of themselves. Some turn of speech, some tone of voice, some distinctive way of putting a thing, some mysterious, but unmistakable, difference of flavour they have managed to preserve, and how grateful we are when we hear or see or taste or feel it. It is like the discovery of a new flower in the woodland, of a new star in the constellation! "It's no a'thegither what he says; it's the way on't," said the old Scots woman in eulogy of her minister. We could mention little traits, which, small as they are, have been on the human side the success of ministries familiar to us all. There was a message and there was a man. But while the complaint is not all true, it is not for us to say that it is made without reason. It is possible that what many a preacher needs, before the success he desires can be his, is to recover nothing more, nor less, than his own lost self. It may be that some of us present a ministry true to type, but false to our own personality.
The fact is that willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, everybody (and everything) seems to-day to be combined in a huge conspiracy to crush out the individuality of the individual. This is seen in every department of life. It is the inevitable result of all highly developed civilisation. Before society is formed the individual is everything and "one of himself." After society is formed he is one among many; sometimes even rather less than one. In the police-force men are known by numbers. In the world of industry they are described as "hands." Civilisation brings infinite advantages, and life would be impossible without it; but we have to pay the price thereof, and it is part of it that the individuality of its subjects must be subordinate to the communal interest. It will be well if, in surrendering ourselves so far as is necessary for the public good, we do not go beyond this requirement to a degree of sacrifice which involves the loss of our own individuality.
From this danger the preacher has hard work to accomplish his deliverance. It is not only the peril of social life; it exists in the Church, and the more highly organised the Church the greater the danger. Referring again to our own denomination, there was a time, not so very far behind us, when the preacher was largely left to work out his own development. As a result, individuality had in those days every chance to assert itself. The tree grew much as it would, for there was no one to lop off a branch here, to bend one there, or to graft upon this stem a shoot from some other variety. Of course the growth was often very peculiar; luxuriant on the sunward side, starved on the northern aspect, disproportionate, maybe, though often on those curious branches fruit was abundant for those who sought. Probably we would train those oaks, and cedars, and apple-trees in the midst of the wood to more conventional shapes if we had them to-day. Hugh Bourne might have to overcome that habit of putting his hand before his face as he talked, and he would certainly have to use language much less lurid than he occasionally employed. William Clowes might have to abandon his practice of repeating a sentence over and over again in animated crescendo. Henry Higginson might be instructed not to lapse into impromptu rhyme in his Camp Meeting addresses. Joseph Spoor might be informed that if he wanted gymnastic exercises he must take them in private, and never by way of standing with one foot on the pulpit seat and the other on the book-board the while he illustrated, by means of a roll of bills, his conception of the trumpet call to the Last Judgment. These men and a host of others we might put into a correcter shape to-day.
Now it is not contended that gifts are not to be trained, or that it is undesirable to teach and practise a certain self-restraint. No doubt buffoonery has often masqueraded as originality; and the great results which have undoubtedly attended ministries in which extremely bad taste and irreverence have been prominent have not been in consequence of these things, but in spite of them, and by the power of a passion for souls underlying them all. "Other times, other manners," is a proverb we must not forget. That there are risks in courses of study imposed without distinction upon one and all alike cannot be denied, but abundant and convincing reasons support their adoption notwithstanding the risks. It is an old objection to ministerial colleges that they spoil able men and are unable to do much for feeble ones. We hear, often, that such and such a man "is not half the man he was when he left home to keep his terms." There may be truth in it all; but it is equally true that a polished instrument is better than a blunt one; that in the hands of a wise man every atom of knowledge means more than an atom of power. Moreover, it can never be proved that a man who comes from college to fail, would not have failed, even more terribly, without the training he there received. Again, it can be proved that out of our colleges have come men whose ministries have been of incalculable blessing to the Church. In the end, after all, the preservation of a man's individuality rests with himself. The fact is that often we lack the necessary courage to be ourselves, and as a result, we give in too soon and too readily, to what appear to us to be demands to sacrifice our soleness that, thereby, we may become something higher and better than we are. In this way men degenerate into imitators and echoes. Such a man is a power and has such a manner. He moves us deeply, shows us heights we have never seen and reveals to us visions of which we have not dreamed. We are not content to appropriate his donation of truth and rest satisfied with the intellectual and moral stimulus he bestows. God did not make two of him, but we think there ought to be another, and we try to be he. The attempt is always a failure. The worst of it is that in our effort to be another we have ceased to be ourselves, and after such a loss what do we still possess? Perhaps the disaster comes in another way. Conventionality has certain curious notions about the pulpit, the fulfilment of which it paradoxically despises as it demands it. The preacher is expected to speak in a different voice and wear a different expression in the "sacred desk" from his voice and expression in other places. In some churches he is expected to read the Bible in a strange, archaic sort of way, pronouncing the words which appear upon its pages with a pronunciation never employed under any other circumstances. The newspaper is read, the psalms are intoned. It is a crime to be natural. All the time men are sick of the whole fabric of artificiality, and long for that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin.