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There is such a variety of aspects in which truth may be presented, so different a complexion does it take in passing through different minds, that a good minister will glean something instructive from about every sermon which he may hear. I have often felt myself deeply interested and profited by a sermon which embraced perhaps not a single fact or thought but such as had long been familiar to my own mind. The mode of presenting its truths and the spirit and unction with which they were enforced, baptized the sermon into Christ and blessed it to my soul's edification. And I have usually found it to be the case that clergymen, older and better and more experienced than myself, are quite as apt to be interested in an ordinary pulpit effort as are those who are not so far advanced as they in the wisdom that cometh from God.
These facts would seem to indicate that very much depends on the temper, the spirit, or the disposition of those who hear; that the more truly good and devout the mind and the heart are, the more attractions will be found in every pulpit effort which is at all respectable.
Now if this is really the case in regard to preachers; if, as a general thing, they can derive some profit or instruction from even an ordinary sermon, must we not infer that its failure to impart information is not the principal reason for its being so unattractive to the most enlightened and best educated portions of society?
It should be borne in mind here also, that there is still a very large proportion of every community who are comparatively ignorant on most religious subjects; whose ideas, so far as they have any, are vague and unformed, and to whom the pulpit is still a most necessary means of assistance. Indeed, if we take these alone, and connect with them only those of our children and youth who are old enough to be instructed, we might have enough to fill, twice over, every church through the length and breadth of the land.
While such as these continue to exist, the pulpit can never become unnecessary, even as an agent in teaching; and ought, for this reason if there were no other, to be sustained even by those who can find in its ministry nothing instructive for their own minds. It should likewise
be remembered, that this is but one office of the pulpit after all. Doubtless it is one of its most important purposes, but not its only one. The church is a place for worship, as well as for teaching; and, in Protestant lands, standing or falling with the pulpit, is the public adoration of God.
Another reason for the present comparative unpopularity of the pulpit, may be found in its new rival, the lecture-room. This, I have no doubt, has helped to take from it some of its former attractions, and lessen the public interest in its ministry. Courses of popular public lectures are now common to almost every town and village throughout the whole land. They enlist some of the finest specimens of talents and eloquence which the country can furnish. None but such indeed could properly hope for any great degree of success in this work. Men who are celebrated as brilliant writers, and fine speakers, take it up now as a regular business affair; and it is not uncommon for some of the more popular among them, I believe, to lecture in some forty or fifty different places perhaps in a single season.
They choose the most favorable topics from the whole domain of art, science, philosophy, and morals; from almost every department of study and of thought, selecting such as will most readily and deeply excite the public attention. As a general thing, but a single lecture, is prepared in the year; the writer gives to it all the time and care that he can wish; he repeats it wherever he goes, rendering it familiar to his own thoughts, and therefore doubly effective in delivery. Under these circumstances the production is one of a high order, and has a captivating influence upon the public mind. Now when a community has listened to a series of these efforts for twelve or fifteen successive weeks, as is often the case, how very tame and dull comparatively must the ordinary discourses of a Sunday appear! If the people are seek ing only for intellectual gratification, or a pleasant mental stimulus, and this doubtless is chiefly what many are after, both in the church and the lecture-room,-the sermon will probably seem a heavy and uninteresting affair to them. The ordinary Sabbath discourse cannot compete with the lecture in these respects.
Unless favored by exchanges, the minister must prepare two, at least, every week; many of them must be upon topics of no great popular interest; vicious habits, tastes, and inclinations, must be combatted in the hearer, rendering the effort still less palatable,-for wholesome counsel is somewhat like medicine, very necessary to be taken, though not very pleasant to take; and the sermon must sometimes be prepared too in the midst of a press of other cares and duties, domestic and parochial; very possibly when "the head is sick and the heart is faint" and under these circumstances, I have often wondered, except in the case of some remarkable man, how the average of pulpit efforts should be equal in interest to what they are. Certainly these facts should be taken into the account, not only when estimating the demands which can properly be made upon the ministry, but especially when considering the attractions of the pulpit. If I am asked how it is, that some of the most popular lecturers are themselves clergymen, and not only celebrated in the former office but equally so in the latter, I can only reply that, by great natural endowments, such as God confers alone upon a chosen few, constituting the nobility of his intellectual empire,-aided perhaps by attainments that are hardly possible to any others, these are exceptions to the common rule, and must be so regarded. The mass of the ministry, at any rate, can never hope to rival them, and ought not to be expected to do so.
Alluding to the lecture and the lecture-room in this manner, I wish carefully to avoid being misunderstood. I would not have these done away with, or perhaps essentially altered. In many respects they have been of very great benefit to society, and their rivalry of the pulpit has been merely an incidental evil, for which they are not to be condemned, but which could not nevertheless be wholly overlooked in a paper of this character. It is, in this matter, very much as it has been in years past with what was known as Revivalism. A celebrated ranter would go into a society and get up a "protracted meeting." He would be a very popular and effective speaker. His handful of discourses would be mainly prepared before hand, and by the time he had gone through with these;
having previously repeated them until they were unusu ally familiar, exciting, and powerful, the people would be heartily sick of their dozy old pastor and very likely get up an indignation meeting and turn him away directly. After having tasted pepper, how could common food be tolerated? It would not be pungent enough. I can recal several instances of which this is a literal history. A very similar influence has been exerted by the lecturer upon the pulpit,-very innocently to be sure, but not the less really; and after listening to his attractive and brilliant performance, it is with far less relish that the people sit down to an ordinary ministerial entertainment on the Sabbath.
It may be mentioned, also, that the pulpit has, now especially, still another more formidable rival in the press. Reading, in this age, is about the cheapest of all our luxuries. A man can obtain all that he wishes with little trouble and at a nominal cost. With our daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly issues, added to all the unnumbered books, pamphlets, and other publications, every nook, corner, and cranny of society is full to overflowing. There is enough, and more than enough, for every one; and if a person were to read all the time he could hardly devour a twentieth part of it. With the increase of general enlightenment, the public taste demands a greater supply of reading matter; and this increased supply in return has stimulated and sharpened the public appetite, until some considerable amount for each person is regarded to be as necessary almost as his daily food. Occasionally a new book, with some of the daily and weekly papers, and probably a magazine or two, will be found on the tables of most of our families, even of the poorer classes. If we then take into the account the fact that the greater portion of our population are daily laborers at some kind of industrial employment, that many of them use up the intervals of business hours in domestic or other duties, it will be seen that there is little opportunity left them for reading except on Sunday; and how very natural it is that they should seize upon that time for the purpose, and leave the poor preacher to utter his homily to naked pews! In many of these publications, book and periodical, they find a greater
interest and attraction than they can in an ordinary sermon; and unless the preacher is a remarkably popu lar man, or has announced some very exciting topic for discussion, the book, the magazine, or the paper, will be chosen in preference to the pulpit effort.
Chiefly on this account, it has now become a common thing, especially in New York and Philadelphia, to get out, in the Saturday papers, attractive notices of taking subjects of preachers that will be exhibited on the following day. It is thought to be about as necessary in insuring a large congregation, as a similar advertisement would be to crowd the theatre or the circus. I cannot but think that this practice generally is in bad taste, that it argues a morbid and unhealthy state of the public mind, and that where it is adopted, except on some very peculiar occasions, it tends slowly to defeat its own object, inasmuch as when no particular preacher or subject is mentioned, the inference is that nothing which deserves much attention is to be expected.
I ought not to omit the mention here of still another cause of the decline of pulpit attractions, viz: an allengrossing, and, if possible, increasing devotion to worldly affairs, chiefly money-getting. I believe that there are more valuable riches in the Bible than in California, but the latter will find ten miners probably where the former will get one. There is a growing and dangerous mania in regard to this matter. Men love distinction, as well as pleasure. And in a free government like ours, where European notions of caste are nominally prohibited, the disposition which has instituted its orders of nobility there, finds activity here in the attainment of wealth, and seeks to build up a sham aristocracy by the prestige and power of great riches. This may not furnish the sole motive in any case; it may not be even a leading motive with all; but that it is a prominent one with many can hardly be doubted. The whole tone of their deport ment and habits indicate it. If they cannot gain legal titles and honors, they will strive for the position and influence which these give through the over-shadowing greatness of gold. Pleasure, too, is to be purchased with its gratification for the appetites, and indulgence for all sensual lusts. Many regard these as the most desirable