« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Attractions of the Pulpit.
The attractions of the pulpit of the present day, if con. sidered in themselves alone, are, doubtless, far superior to what they were anciently. The ministry has grown with the growth of other things; and if not fully up to the spirit of the age, has at least advanced nearly in ratio to the progress
of the race. Of course, I do not refer to the ministry of any particular sect, in this remark, but speak of the pulpit generally. And I do not overlook or deny the fact that there have been individual cases of ministerial popularity in former times, which towered above the mass of their age in a similar manner to what some do now. I only claim that for learning, talents, eloquence, and all which goes to make
be denominated the attractions of the pulpit, the present age may be regarded as probably superior, on the whole, to that of any former one. Fenelon, and Hall, and South, and Wesley, and Whitfield, and Murray, and other divines of similar celebrity, who have done their work on earth and passed to their rest, would doubtless be regarded as great and good men were they living now; but I think that they would not be received as remarkably popular preachers by our present congregations. They were so in their own times, partly because they had fewer rivals than the popular preacher has now, and partly because the great body of the people were far less cultivated then than they are in our own age.
We can find their equals now in almost all our cities and large towns, and a much better and more general system of public education has raised the mass of the people to a higher culture than the body of those enjoyed to whom they preached ; so that he who is now seen over the heads of the multitude must be a much taller man than those eminent servants of Christ to whom I have alluded.
Regarded simply in themselves, then, as I have suggested, the attractions of the pulpit are much superior now to what they were in previous ages. Comparatively, however, it may be very different. Certainly the pulpit has not that deep root in the hearts and affections of the people generally which it had in earlier times. It has been, for many years, gradually losing its hold upon the public mind. In this country a marked change is visible in this respect. The church, instead of being a desirable place of resort, as it has been regarded, a place where everybody goes on Sunday, who can go,-appears to be declining into a condition of pauperism; and its public services, if we except those of some which are considered as exceeding fashionable, or which have remarkably popu. lar preachers, are attended only by comparatively a few. At least, such is the case to a far greater extent than it used to be. Even within my own recollection, the change in this respect has been striking and mournful. I can well remember when, in most towns with which I had any acquaintance, every person except the very aged and infirm, the sick, and those who were necessarily their attendants, even to the very small children, just as fully expected to be present at public worship on the Sabbath, as they did to have their daily food at the usual hours, or practise any other thing which was regarded as a necessary part of life. There was not only a more profound respect for religion and its ordinances, but a deeper personal interest in meetings for divine worship. Most persons appeared to regard it as a source of personal gratification to join in the exercises of such an occasion. They found it exceedingly pleasant to do so, and it was no slight cause which could keep them away.
But it is not so now, as a general thing. There may be certain towns and places where the change in this respect has not been as great as it has in others. Some scattered communities, especially in the agricultural districts of the interior, modify their habits of this kind more slowly. But still the change is felt, more or less, throughout them all. I discover it wherever I go. In all our larger towns and cities especially, with the exceptions already mentioned, of a few cases in which churches are regarded as quite fashionable, or have very popular preachers, houses of worship are rather thinly attended, and the congregations of Protestant sects do not keep pace, in their increase, with the increase of the population, So far as my experience and observation go, this is strictly and mournfully true.
To verify this fact, I will take the city of New York as an example. A somewhat careful estimate made, , partly from my own observation, and partly from the statements of reliable persons, satisfies me that only about one-fifth, certainly not more than one-fourth, of its entire population can be found within the walls of its churches on any Sunday in the whole year. Of course, those who are absent at one time, may, some of them at least, be present at other times, and those who are present on one Sabbath, may not all of them be present at other times; but I have stated the extreme number of attend. ants at the most favorable time, and something like the number of non-attendants at all times
In all probability, not attempting great exactness, there are more than two hundred and fifty thousand persons in that city, every Sunday, who do not see the inside of any place of religious worship.
In Connecticut, generally, there is a greater number of church-goers, in proportion to the whole population. In Hartford, and the larger towns of my acquaintance, the average number of attendants, in fair weather, will ap. proach nearly to one third of the community.
Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, would probably exhibit a somewhat fairer statement. Massachusetts might average nearly as many as Connecticut, while as we pass off West and South, the number of those who attend public worship will be found comparatively to diminish with great rapidity.
But whether these few statistics are wholly reliable or otherwise, I am sure that no one who has given the subject much attention, or who cares for the interests of Christianity, if he considers the facts even in their best form, will fail to acknowledge that there is cause in them for the most bitter regrets, if not alarming fears. Regarded in their most favorable light, they are sufficiently mournful to arrest attention, and to throw a shadow across the hearts of those who are toiling for the spiritual interests and salvation of humanity.
It may not be unprofitable to consider some of the more prominent causes of this state of things.
In looking for the principal agencies which are concerned in its production, I have no doubt that some of them may be traced back to the pulpit itself. Its deteriorated condition is owing partly to its own *defects. I believe that it has had, and possesses even now, notwithstanding all its progress, many imperfections and faults which have gone far to aid in alienating the affections of the public. In too many cases it has been distinguished for its rigid and blind conservatism, when it ought to have been the pioneer in every true reform. It has too often been narrow and intolerant, and uncharitable. In many cases it has been more ready to scent out heresy, than to rebuke vice, or do battle with wrong; more ready to insist on a speculative dogma, than on a plain principle of practical right. Its spirit has not been sufficiently mild and kind to harmonize with that of Jesus, nor have its teachings generally been directed, as they should be, to the common wants and affairs of every day life. These suggestions will find their most forcible application to what is arrogantly termed the Evangelical pulpit. The more truly liberal churches have been far less offensive in these respects. But of whatever faults a severe scrutiny might convict the pulpit generally, the indifference of the public mind to its interests cannot be traced to causes of this kind alone. For these causes have been quite as great at any previous time as they are now. They were even greater a quarter of a century ago, when instead of the present church attendance, of from one-third to one-fifth of the population, the ratio would be nearly three-fourths of the whole. So that the greater part of the change, at least, must be owing to other influences than the defects of the pulpit itself. What are they?
Let it be considered that one great object of the Protestant pulpit, and one from which no small part of its attractions spring, is the giving of religious instruction.' Also, that as a community becomes truly enlightened in religious as well as other kinds of knowledge, the necessity for pulpit instruction diminishes, in the same propor. tion.
This would seem too evident to require much elucida. tion. Where there is but little light, general information, . VOL. XII.
or active intelligence among the people, the pulpit, although of a lower grade, becomes a highly attractive as well as efficient means of imparting knowledge. To instruct the mass of men is one object of its institution. To teach the great truths of Christ's religion, to explain its doctrines and enforce its duties, to throw light upon all our spiritual interests, hopes, and assurances, forms a great purpose of its very being. And as society becomes gradually better instructed in regard to all these matters, as it rises to higher and higher attainments, its members will come gradually to look upon the church very much as the adult looks upon the old school-room of his childhood. It is the place where he was assisted in acquiring his education. But he begins to feel now that he knows about all that is taught there, quite as well as his teacher does, and so, as a matter of course, his personal interest in it dies away. He thinks that he has outgrown it, and to some little extent at least he is, in one sense, probably correct.
Regarded therefore in this aspect alone, as a means of religious instruction, I admit that the pulpit must be expected to decay in its attractions about in proportion to the improvement of society in regard to popular religious information. Still I am unwilling to allow that it has really nothing to do in this respect even for the best cul. tivated mind in any community. The presence of such in our churches may render higher pulpit attainments and qualifications necessary than are commonly found in the ministry; and, after all, I cannot but think that if those individuals felt right about the matter, if they were really as devout in spirit, or as religiously inclined as they ought to be, in their disposition and affections, they would find that, with all its imperfections, the pulpit would have
, some attraction for them still.
I know that clergymen generally like to hear preaching even if it is not of the highest order. Although they give most of their time and thoughts to studies of a religious character, and are probably better informed, on all subjects treated by the pulpit, than other persons, yet I think that they will bear me witness that, as a general thing, they not only find a pleasure in listening to the preached word, but learn something also from even a poor