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The character of some of the following Discourses will, doubtless, be thought unusual for the pulpit. The subjects themselves, indeed, are out of the ordinary course of preaching I might say in their defence, that such topics have been sometimes admitted into occasional sermons; and Commercial Morality, in particular, bas been made the subject of, at least, one entire volume of religious discourses, which has not offended the popular taste. But this defence, I must confess, does not satisfy me. In justice to my own convictions, I must be allowed to place the following discussions on a broader ground than that of exception. If I deserve blame, I cannot fairly escape on such a plea; for I am persuaded, not only that such discussions are entirely proper for the pulpit, but that it is the bounden duty of the pulpit to entertain them.
If, indeed, I have violated the proper decorum of religious discourse, such an error is capable of no defence. But I must be allowed to say, that when I had determined that it was my duty as a preacher to discuss certain subjects, I could not allow any formality or fastidiousness of the pulpit to prevent me from doing 80, with as much thoroughness and detail as were compatible with the gravity of the place. Thus, with regard to the first discourse on the Moral Law of Contracts-knowing, as I did know, that the consciences of men around me were deeply involved in the questions that arose, I could not hesitate about going into the necessary specifications, however unusual in preaching ;-the serious business of such a discourse would not allow me to stand on pulpit ceremony, as to terms, and phrases, and instances. I could not well be understood without them; and as the object of speaking is to be understood, I knew of no sanctity of time or place that was to contravene the laws of that very instrument-speech—which I was using..
I am not ignorant, at the same time, in what manner anything unusual in the subjects or style of religious discourses is likely to be received. I know that there will be some readers, as there have been hearers of these discourses, to say, that a part of them would be more suitable for the Lyceum and lectureroom. Nay, I will confess, that in delivering them, I have had certain feelings of reluctance to contend with, in my own mind; so powerful are old prepossessions against new or singular views of duty. Since I understand the feeling of objection, therefore, will the kind reader, who may entertain the same feeling, permit me to reason the matter a little with him and with myself, in the remainder of this preface?
Let me ask, in the first place, if our ideas of propriety in this case are not very much matters of convention and usage? If we had always been accustomed to hear discussions in our churches, on such subjects as the Morals of Traffic, of Politics, and of our social
well-being as a nation; if the terms and phrases appropriate to such subjects had found a place in the pulpit, should we ever have doubted their propriety? It is observable, indeed, that certain topics have forced their way into the pulpit, within the last quarter of a century, which, it is probable, sounded as questionably and strangely in ears accustomed only to the old scholastic preaching as any grave moral topics can now.
I allude to discussions on War and Peace, on Temperance, Abolition, and the various religious enterprises of the day.
The question then is what is the proper range of the pulpit? What is the appropriate business of preaching? The answer is plain—to address the public mind on its moral and religious duties and dangers. But what are its duties and dangers, and where are they to be found? Are they not to be found wherever men are acting their part in life? Are human responsibility and exposure limited to any one sphere of action—to the church, or to the domestic circle-or to the range of the gross and sensual passions? Are not men daily making shipwreck of their consciences in trade and politics? And wheresoever conscience goes to work out its perilous problem, shall not the preacher follow it? It is not very material whether a man's integrity forsakes him at the polls in an election, or at the board of merchandise, or at the house of rioting, or the gates whose way leadeth to destruction. Outwardly it may be different, but inwardly, it is the same. In either case, the fall of the victim is the most deplorable of all things on earth; and most fit, therefore, for the consideration of the pulpit. I must confess, I cannot understand by what process of enlightened reasoning and conscience, the preacher can come to the conclusion, that there are wide regions of moral action and peril around him, into which he may not enter, because such unusual words as Commerce, Society, Politics, are written over the threshold.
Nay, more; is not the greatest possible disservice done to the highest interests of mankind, by this limitation as to subjects under which the pulpit has laid itself? The confined and technical character which belongs to the common administration of religion, does more than anything else, in my apprehension, to disarm it of its power. I am not insensible, when I say this, to the greatness of those obstacles in the human heart and in human life with which it has to contend. I am not now measuring the strength of those obstacles, but simply considering the force that is brought to bear upon them : that force is moral, spiritual force; and the leading form of it, in the public estimation, is preaching. The pulpit is the authorized expositor to men of their duties. Those duties, it will not be denied, press upon every action and instant of human life. But what now is the consideration which the pulpit generally gives to this wide and busy field of duty? Are not whole spheres of human action left out of the account? With the exception of some occasional and wholesale denunciations, are not business, politics, amusements, and fashionable society, passed by entirely? Are not men left to say, when engaged in those scenes, * religion has nothing to do with us here”? Do they not, naturally enough, feel that these engagements are, in a manner, set apart from all sense of duty? Is it strange, then, that the public conscience is lax in these matters? It seems to me, I must confess, rather a hard measure that the pulpit deals out to these departments of life. It never recognises them as spheres of duty; it does nothing for the correction or culture of men's minds in them; and yet, every now and then, it comes down upon their aberrations with cold, bitter, and unsparing censure.
Let me not be supposed to forget, that the pulpit has to deal with topics and questions of duty, that go down into the depths of the human heart-with faith, and repentance, and love, and self-denial, and disinterestedness—and that its principal business is thus to make the fountain pure. But religion has an outward form, as well as an inward spirit; that form is the whole lawful action of life; and to cut off half of that action from all public and positive recognition --what is it but to consign it over to irreligion, to unprincipled licence, and worldly vanity?
There is time enough in the pulpit for all things; nay, it wants variety. It is made dull by the restriction and reiteration of its topics. It would gain strength by a freer and fuller grasp of its proper objects. What it can do, I believe, yet remains to be seen. We complain of the corruptions of fashion and amusement, of business and politics. The calm, considerate, concentrated, universal attention of the pulpit to these things, would, in one year, I believe, produce a decided and manifest effect.
But the great evil, I am sensible, lies deeper-too deep for any sufficient consideration, within the narrow limits of a preface. The pulpit not only fails in this matter, but it fails on principle, and on a principle almost universally adopted. The evil is, that sermons, pulpits, priests—all the active agents that are labouring in the service of religion-are, by the public judgment, as well as by their own choice, severed from the great mass of human actions and interests.
1 THESSALONIANS iv. 6 : “ That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in
I PROPOSE to invite your attention in a series of three or four Sabbath evening discourses, to the moral laws of trade, the moral end of business, and to the moral principles which are to govern the accumulation of property. The first of these subjects is proposed for your consideration this evening; and it is one, as I conceive, of the highest interest and importance.
This country presents a spectacle of active, absorbing, and prosperous business, which strikes the eye of every stranger as its leading characteristic. We are said to be, and we are a people, beyond all others, devoted to business and accumulation. This, though it is often brought against us as a reproach, is really an inevitable result of our political condition. I trust that it is but the first development, and that many better ones are to follow. It does, however, spring from our institutions; and I hold, moreover, that it is honourable to them. If half of us were slaves, that half could have nothing to do with traffic. If half of us were in the condition of the peasantry of Europe, the business transactions of that balf would be restricted within a narrow sphere, and would labour under a heavy pressure. But where liberty is given to each one to act freely for himself, and by all lawful means to better his condition, the consequence is inevitably what we see-an universal and unprecedented activity among all the classes of society, in all the departments of human industry. The moral principles, then, applicable to the transaction of business, have strong claims upon our attention; and seem to me very proper subjects of discussion in our pulpits.
There are moral questions, too, as we very well know, which actually do interest all reflecting and conscientious men who are engaged in trade. They are very frequently discussed in conversation ; and very different grounds are taken by the disputants. Some say that one principle is altogether right, and others that another and totally different one is the only right principle. In such circumstances, it seems to me not only proper but requisite, for those whose office it is to speak to men of their duties, that they should take up the discussion of these as they would any other moral questions. I am obliged to confess that we are liable, scholastic and retired men as we are, to give some ground to men of business for anticipating that our reasonings and conclusions will not be very practical or satisfactory. I can only say, for myself, that I have, for some time, given patient and careful attention to the moral principles of trade; that I have often conversed with men of business, that I might understand the practical bearings and