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cause, every minister should seriously inquire, in no degree identified with myself? Is there nothing in the spirit and manner of my ministrations, which deprives them of the co-operating influences of God's spirit, and prevents their appropriate fruits from being more abundantly realized among the people of my charge ?
In pursuing the question before us, we shall spend no time in remarks upon that sort of preaching, which denies or conceals the great doctrines of the gospel, which substitutes the inventions of men for the verities of God, and aims only to deceive its hearers with the sophistries of error, or to amuse them with 'prettinesses of style and manner. There is much of this kind of preaching in our land, and the cause of its utter unfruitfulness is too plain to need pointing out. The question relates to preaching which is essentially correct in doctrine, and evangelical in spirit and aim.
1. One cause, then, we apprehend, why preaching of this character is not more generally successful, is found in a faulty method of presenting the doctrine of God's sovereignty and man's dependence.
These doctrines we hold to be true and important, and a scriptural exhibition of them is of eminent use in bringing sinners to repentance and salvation. The exhibition which we regard as scriptural, is that which brings the greatest amount of moral influence to bear on the heart and conscience; which, while it cuts off self-confidence on the one hand, prevents self-justification and sloth on the other, and impels the subject, under a persuasion, that it is “God who worketh in him to will and to do,” to “work out bis own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is the true, practical effect of the doctrine of God's sovereignty and man's dependence, as taught in the bible.
But the doctrine may be so stated, and if we mistake not, often has been so stated, as to weaken or destroy a sense of obligation, and lay the conscience asleep. Why is it, that so many are to be found sitting under the ministry of the present day, who constantly assert their dependence on God, as an excuse for continuance in sin, —who are wont to meet every call to repentance, with the plea, that they cannot, but must wait God's time; and are actually quieting themselves in a state of condemnation, under an impression, that they have nothing to do, and can do nothing, in the great business of securing salvation ? Why is it, too, that there are in our churches so many professors of religion, who, whenever summoned to prayer and effort, as the appointed and hopeful means of a revival of religion, fold their arms in sloth, and excuse themselves on the ground, that this is the work of God, and they must wait his time to accomplish it? Here is a practical perversion of the doctrine of God's sovereignty and man's dependence,-a perversion of widespread and most pernicious influence; and whatever other causes may be assigned for its prevalence, it must, we think, in no small part, be traced to a faulty method of stating the doctrine in question.
There is a theology, quite too prevalent in some parts of our country, which is wont to present the sovereignty of God in such a light, as to make it little else than the mere dictation of arbitrary will and power,-binding men in the chains of an inexorable fate; which denies to man all proper ability to obey God, and makes his dependence on divine grace such, as renders it physically impossible for him to perform spiritual duties. And even where this crude theology is not carried to the extent here represented, where, indeed, it is discarded as false, language is sometimes beard from the pulpit, respecting the doctrine now under consideration, x which can hardly fail to make a wrong impression on the minds of sinners, ready as they always are to seize upon any thing as an excuse for neglect of duty. If, for example, the doctrine of divine sovereignty and human dependence is so presented, as to infringe on free agency, or set aside the connection between means and ends; it men are told, that they have no power to repent or do their duty; that they are directly dependent on God for all their exercises, and are so under the dominion of a depraved nature, inherited from Adam, or born with them and making a part of them, that they can do nothing to help, but only to hinder, their salvation; they will always receive the impression, that they cannot“ be to blame" for being what and where they are,-that sin is their misfortune, and not their crime, and that any attempt to escape from their condition and turn unto God, is absurd and useless. The preacher who uses this language, may perhaps mean by it, what is true and important; but there is a great deal of the most hurtful error involved in it, and if he does not carefully guard his statements on this subject, he is sure to be misunderstood. While he seriously aims, it may be, to awaken and save his hearers, he is in fact administering to them a deadly opiate, and quieting them in the repose of undisturbed impenitence and sin.
Against this false and ruinous impression, every minister, who would be successful in winning souls to Christ, must direct bis most strenuous efforts. While it remains, the case of the sinner is hopeless. Instruction and warning, exhortation and intreaty, can do him no good. The delusion, that he has nothing to do, and can do nothing, to secure salvation, is a triple shield to his conscience, and stupid continuance in sin is the inevitable consequence.
The great aim of the preacher should be, so to present the doctrine of the bible, as to lay upon the conscience of the singer the full weight of his obligations, and to make him feel, that whatever may be true respecting the sovereignty of God and man's dependence, there is nothing in either, which in the least militates against
free agency and accountability, or allows the slighest hope of salvation in a state of carelessness and sloth. It should be made to appear, as it certainly may be, that the sinner's dependence on God for repentance, is a dependence of his own creating, growing out of his love of sin and voluntary aversion to duty, and which, while it suspends his salvation on the good pleasure of God, renders him altogether inexcusable and guilty for continuing a moment longer in bis sins. This view of the subject cuts off excuse, and fixes the blame where it ought to rest. It leaves the whole weight of the sinner's obligation pressing on the conscience, and is well fitted to make him feel, that if he perishes, his blood will be upon his own head.
We close this topic with the remark, that if a minister entertains any such views of the doctrine just considered, or of any other doctrines of the bible, as in the least embarrass him, in urging upon sinners an immediate compliance with the terms of salvation, or which, when duly presented, would diminish in the transgressor a sense of obligation, and of guilt for neglect of duty; such views, he may be sure, are radically false, and of pernicious tendency. This is a practical test, by which every minister would do well to try his theological views.
2. Ministers are not enough in the habit of presenting the gospel to the minds of their hearers, as a cause fitted and designed to bring them to immediate repentance and submission to God. In its nature and design, the gospel is such a cause. While it comes with the offer of pardon and life to lost men, its authoritative demand is, that they repent and accept the offer, and that they do it now. In this character it was uniformly presented by the apostles; and thus urged, it wrought wonders in the hearts and lives of men. They met their hearers in the most free, unembarrassed manner, just as if they intended and expected to persuade them to become christians on the spot. In pressing home the claims of duty, they appear not to have felt the least difficulty from any doctrinal views of the atonement, or of man's dependence, or of God's sovereignty and purposes. They addressed men as free moral agents, every way capacitated to hear and obey the voice of God: they addressed them as guilty, perishing sinners, standing in infinite need of the mercy offered them in the gospel ; and having made known to them the way of salvation by Christ, they urged home the duty of an immediate acceptance of him, as the only and all-sufficient Savior of lost men.
In their manner of delivering God's message, we see no protracted process of using the means of grace pointed out ; no analysis of difficulties to be gotten over; no philosophical explanation of the origin and nature of sin, or of the mode of the change efsected in regeneration; no allowance of any future time to repent, or of any delay of duty in the attitude of passively waiting God's time to give repentance. All was plain matter of fact,—direct summons to duty. And was it not this straight-forward, direct way of preaching the gospel, with the fixed design and earnest expectation of its being immediately and powerfully efficacious, which in primitive times produced such great and sudden results in the conviction and conversion of sinners? Repentance and faith are indeed preached at the present day, as duties of immediate obligation ; but frequently, it is believed, in connection with other statements which break the force of these duties, and quiet the conscience in sin: and instead of looking for effects in accordance with such preaching, nothing, perhaps, would strike the preacher himself with greater astonishment, than to see his hearers actually repenting, as did those of Peter, while he was yet announcing to them the message of God. The most he expects, even from his best efforts, is, that possibly some of his hearers may be induced to attend to the subject; or, to use a common illustration, that the seed sown may, perchance, spring up and bear fruit at some fu- t ture day. Of any thing beyond this, neither preacher nor hearer: scarcely ever dreams. The consequence is, that the gospel is in a great measure deprived of its power, and comparatively few immediate effects are realized from its ministrations.
The preacher too often expects little from the publication of God's message; and this expectation is, ordinarily, the cause of its own fulfillment. It paralizes effort, and prayer, and hope,—makes his discourses from the pulpit abstract, cold, and distant, and redders the sword of the Spirit an ineffective, powerless weapon. For if ministers preach, or people hear, under an impression, that no immediate effects are to be produced, what more can be expected, than that they should preach in vain, and the people hear in vain? The gospel, ministered and heard in this manner, is not brought to bear on the heart and conscience. It does not so much as touch the main-springs of feeling and action in the soul. A wide space is created between it and the mind,-a region of vacancy, over which no influence can pass, to awaken fear or impel to effort. No sinner ever repents, till he is made to feel, that submission to God can be delayed no longer,—that the surrendry of the soul is a duty binding now, and to be done now. To produce this impression, should be the great aim of a minister in all his preaching, conversation and prayers. Let him regard the gospel of Christ as an instrument of heavenly temper, adapted and intended to produce present results ; let him, in reliance upon the promised aids of the Spirit, prepare and deliver his discourses under the inspiring expectation of realizing such results; and who can doubt, whether new life and power would be imparted to his ministry, and new and more abundant fruits be gathered therefrom? It is
said of Whitefield, that he always entered the pulpit with an expectation, that the message he had to deliver would be blessed to ihe salvation of some of his hearers. This is the true principle of faith,-the vitality and power of the ministry: it honors God, and honors bis truth; and to a defect of this principle may be traced, in no small degree, the want of success in the ministry.
3. And the cause of this is, the want of skill in adapting divine truth to the particular state and character of those who attend upon the preaching of the gospel. There is an exact correspondence between the truths of the bible and the principles of the human mind; and when these truths are clearly presented, and faithfully applied, they never fail to produce impression and feeling. The skill thus to present and apply the truth of God, is the perfection of preaching. It was this which gave the preaching of Christ such amazing pungency and power. He always aimed at the heart: and as he knew what was in man, always able to apply to each one of his hearers, the truth best adapted to meet his particular state and character. Hence it is worthy of special notice, that our Savior rarely preached a sermon which did not produce very visible and marked effect,which did not confirm and comfort his friends, and disturb and distress his enemies. We know some preachers at the present day, who possess, in a very high degree, this divine skill of dissecting the heart, and adapting the truths of God's word to the principles of the human mind; and such preachers are always impressive and powerful. While christians are edified and established in the faith, under their clear and discriminating applications of truth ; sinners are distressed and alarmed, and are compelled to feel the guilt and misery of their condition. Such a preacher was Edwards. With almost no aid from voice, or gesture and manner, he could fix an audience in breathless silence and deep solemnity of feeling. His profound knowledge of the bible, and of the human heart, enabled him to speak to the consciousness of
every one who heard him ; so that each one was obliged to reflect, in language like that of the woman of Sychar : Here is a man revealing to me the secrets of my own heart and life: is not this man from God?'
In no respect, perhaps, are sermons more apt to fail than in this. We hear a great deal of preaching which is entirely powerless, because it is not true to nature,—not exact in its delineation of character, nor discriminating in its applications of truth. It is vague, declamatory, and pointless; proving what needs no proof; explaining what needs no explanations; keeping always at a distance from the heart and conscience, 'forever going round and round, but never coming directly to the point.' It speaks of depravity and wickedness, of guilt and danger, of repentance and