Page images
PDF
EPUB

ministers. The requirement of their case is not met by anything else. They are observed by too great a variety of minds, are exposed to too many and dissimilar perils, to be safe personally or officially without it. Their purity must be without a flaw, and without a doubt. Like Cæsar's wife, they must not be suspected. It is not sufficient that they can be vindicated ; there must be no need of vindication. The materials of a full defence may be possessed, but there must be no occasion for a charge. Over and above the absence of any real ground of condemnation, there must be the impossibility of supposing one. Vindication cannot always be made, even where the matter is abundant, and at hand; and the existence of a charge, although disproved, leaves an impression which is not easily destroyed. But this is only one view of the subject. There may be such a character as cannot be impeached, and yet not such an one as subserves the highest ends of practical goodness. Truth, honesty, purity, gravity, and all other moral qualities, may be found in him who yet fails to attract attention and respect by the ethereal and high-toned nature of his excellence. And the attributes of Christian grace may be marked by no radical defect in him who leads not observers to witness of him that he is 'filled with the Spirit. And if a minister, of whose essential piety there is no suspicion, still indicate that he has a very cordial love of this world's goods, a nice appreciation of physical dainties, a strong sense of personal dignity, an eager desire for the praise of men, it will detract amazingly from all his expositions, however luminous, and all his applications, however faithful, of the evil of covetousness, self-indulgence, pride, and vanity.

There is one bearing of a blameless character in the ministerial work, that deserves peculiar notice. Nothing weakens the heart more than a consciousness of insincerity. If there be a secret conviction of unsoundness as to the thing aimed at, of guilt in respect of the sin denounced, or neglect in respect of the duty commended, there is and must be failure in courage or in power, or both. 'No real greatness,' says Coleridge, can long co-exist with deceit. The whole faculties of man must be exerted in order to call forth noble energies ; and he who is not earnestly sincere, lives in but half his being, self-mutilated, self. paralysed.' This general doctrine is founded on a principle whose application to our present subject is clear and close. The duty of a faithful minister is not alone to teach the doctrine of good works, nor to specify the ways in which this doctrine is violated; he must also, in order to make full proof of his ministry, come into personal collision with evil consciences. He is charged with the direct reproof of men. Private expostulation

is part of his official work. In the discipline of the church he must ever be a prominent agent. But with what amount of fidelity is he to be expected to discharge this painful responsibility, how almost morally impossible is it for him to attempt it, how plausible must excuses for its neglect appear in his view, and if he set himself to the task, how feebly and timidly must he accomplish it, if he possess not the testimony of his conscience that he is perfectly exempt from the faults it is his business to expose and reprobate, and if he be not free from every particle of fear lest in dealing with other's sins he provoke animadversion on his own defects? The bold and successful reprorer of sin must have the full approval of his own mind. “The snuffers of the sanctuary were of pure gold. But this blamelessness of life, this entire and transparent holiness, is inseparable from deep-rooted godliness. It cannot be assumed; it grows out of the heart. Care and circumspection will fail, if they be alone. A man can be certain to practise all righteousness, to present a universal and habitual pattern to the church and the world, only as he is righteous, loves, delights in, gives himself to, God. It must be a natural habit, not a studied act.

We are fully aware that the question may, and will be put,How are we to secure the sterling spiritual qualities on which you lay so great a stress? It is a momentous question, too momentous to be hastily dismissed. We can do no more than offer one or two suggestions in reply. Our first remark is, that the men must be possessed of them before they are pledged or invited to the ministry at all. We apprehend, that the design of colleges is grievously misunderstood, when, they are considered as intended to supply any great defect in the spiritual principles of those who enter them. They may train and direct and enlighten the godliness of students, but, certainly, they cannot be expected to effect any peculiar augmentation of it, or, in a general way, to do more than keep it up, or at least, to secure its keeping pace with the other growths of the soul. So far from it, we are inclined to think that the course of study which is prosecuted in them, may easily be allowed to check the advancement of the higher religious powers. It involves processes which eminent religion is required to pass through without injury. The straining of the mind, the constant familiarity with the mere secularities of knowledge, the habitual treatment of sacred things as matters of grammar, and criticism, and composition, and eloquence, are liable to blunt the edge and dull the polish of heart-piety, and must do so, unless there be a more than common unity and steadfastness of purpose to

grow in grace. There may be exceptions in this as there are in all things, but it would be a folly condemned by all past

[graphic]

experience, and all philosophy, to anticipate from a collegiate career the removal of any previous defects in the faith and the fervour of those who have to pass through it. The right men must be, and be seen to be, the right men, before they enter upon that career. We speak not without a full perception of our own meaning, and a perfect readiness to maintain it, when we say that the rule in God's church is, that the commencement of the religious course shall ascertain its conduct. Whatever examples may exist to the contrary, men are at the beginning of their Christian history what they are through it. The seedtime decides the harvest. If there be faint convictions of truth, weak affections towards it, doubtful consecration to it, in the season of conversion, and early spiritual life, if there be nothing clear marked and noticeable about the first operations of divine influence, we do not deem it safe to entertain any sanguine expectation that future years will witness great excelling. The weakly infant may possibly turn out a mighty man, but it would be absurd to dedicate him, while a weakly infant, to a work which only a mighty man is fit for. The indispensable qualifications for candidateship for the ministry of souls is, in our view, such a power and painfulness of zeal for God and men, as would not allow the possessor to be happy or easy unless ' separated,' in some way of special directness, ‘unto the Gospel of Christ. We eschew the cant that has often been expressed by 'a call to the ministry,' but we believe in, and honour the truth which it may stand for. A call there is, or ought to be. To enter the greatest of all offices without 'a call' is presumptuous absurdity. That call is not outward election, not signs of circumstances, not merely mental impressions, but essentially, and above all, such a vehement anxiety to 'serve God in the Gospel of his Son,' such a sense of the goodness and glory of this service, and such a fulness of purpose to do this 'one thing,' as must leave the heart sorrowful and sick, unless the service be allowed. The ministry must not be a dubious preference, something on the whole better than something, or than anything, else, but the engagement which alone meets the master-craving of the mind. He only will do much in it, who could do nothing out of it; who feels that it is not an office selected, so much as an office imposed; not a matter for decision, but of destiny; not what he may properly accept, but what he dare not possibly refuse; that 'necessity is laid upon him, yea, woe be unto him if he preach not the gospel.' And if there be this state of mind, admission into a college will not be a necessary condition of labouring in the gospel. The working out of the desire and determination of the mind will not depend on the approval of men. The spirit within will shape itself into

appropriate and beneficial services, whatever the estimate and verdict of others. The way will be formed for the will. Systems and functionaries may forbid a particular mode of entrance into the work, may impede a particular line of progress in it, but they 'have nothing more that they can do. They cannot, and were never meant to, prevent the utterance, and effectual utterance, of those who can say, "We believe, and therefore speak. The greatest men in God's church have often been raised up beside, and independently of, existing institutions. Melchizedek, the Prophets, Paul, and multitudes since, owed little to the ordi. nary and regular provisions of the church; and they who come 'in their spirit and power' may yet find that where there is life, opportunity of labour will not be withheld. But how is the existence of life to be ascertained? There is but one way the marking what men are as private Christians. If in that capacity they be merely respectable saints, maintaining only a common character of holiness and zeal, doing no more than others, filling no peculiar positions, and producing no peculiar impression; if there be no reason to suppose that out of the ministry they would stand apart as distinguished by devotedness, and spiritual power; if the strong probability be that their official distinction will be their only distinction; then we say, that it is a hazardous thing to invite or encourage them to become ministers of Christ.

‘But if only such men can be found—what then?' The plainest of all things—do without them. There is no obligation anywhere to maintain an inefficient, and especially a spiritually inefficient, ministry. The ends of God are not answered in filling so many pulpits, and sustaining so many churches. Numbers have no mystic virtue here. Ministers are to be weighed, not counted. We are persuaded that the best policy, as well as the best principle, is to let the truth of things come out. To patch up institutions, to paint sepulchres, to cover a certain amount of surface, to uphold a certain amount of machinery, is worse than useless. Speaking literally, there are just as many ministers as there are right ministers—no more: speaking practically, there are not so many, if there be more. Men who are wanting in the sterling qualities of able ministers of the New Testament—who make no impression on the world—whose official position is kept up chiefly by successive expedientswho are more indebted for it to the backing of brethren than their own power—who are as often thinking of removing from,. as of remaining in, stations—men of this kind are doubtless of no value to any denomination. They may reckon in a manual or a register, but they reckon not otherwise, 'true zeros, nothing in themselves, but much in sequence.' And something

has to be deducted on their account from other men's labours, before the true worth and weight of a ministry can be appreciated. We say then that if the point were, which we do not believe it is, that if the ordinary kind of ministers are not received into our colleges and churches, there inust be none received at all, there is nothing in the conclusion to alarm or distress us. · Be this as it may, the question we put to the congregations of non-conformists is this, Shall there be a ministry among us, having the spirit of power'?

We shall perhaps return to the subject of the ministry, ere

long.

Art. III. Pericles. A Tale of Athens in the 83rd Olympiad. By the

Author of a Brief Sketch of Greek Philosophy. In two vols.

Longman & Co., London, 1846. The vapid novels or romances which forty years ago alone supplied the English demand for works of fiction, have been gradually supplanted by a species of writing, neither foreseen nor wished for : without which, however, neither the disdain of the learned, nor the frowns of the good, would probably have been able to extirpate those evil weeds of literature. The happy change is mainly due to the imaginative genius and lore of Sir Walter Scott, whose instinct led him to the same practical maxim as had been elicited by the profound analysis of Aristotle two thousand years before ;Poetry is more philosophical than History. The Greeks indeed had not as yet produced prose works of fiction, unless the dialogues of Plato are to be so reckoned ; otherwise instead of Poetry, the illustrious father of criticism would doubtless have used the larger term Fiction, which would be fully justified by his argument. We must not be understood to mean that history is not philosophical. But the instruction which it yields depends very much on the materials themselves; and, even with the same historian, one century or one nation is very far from being equally fruitful of wisdom to the reader of its history, as, another. Its proper business is with details, and in this respect it rather furnishes the raw materials of science, than becomes a science itself; and a history is philosophic, when its materials are so disposed as to aid the reader in generalizing concerning politics or morals, though neither of these sciences can be treated as such by the historian. A work of fiction on the contrary is plastic to the hand of genius, and should exhibit, not what actually was, nor

« PreviousContinue »