« PreviousContinue »
So far, then, a comparison between Prophets and Ministers, as between two corresponding classes of men, would be inapposite. But if instituted for the purpose of pointing out a general resemblance in object, and a possible diminution of the points of contrast in the means adopted for accomplishing that object, it need not be useless. We call all men possessing mental power, and its consequent influence, to gaze on the Prophets, and learn from them. They were not, as has been shown, Teachers of religion in the limited sense, in which the word has been used, but teachers of whatever truth they knew to be important to man, under a sense of religion. They spoke truths that related to their country's national well-being-political truths—truths relating to ethics, to practical morals, to Theology, properly so called ; but then all these subjects became religious in their hands, because they uttered them under a deep sense of their importance, and a firm faith in God's superintendence and providence over man.
Now every man teaching truths, (not duly received by the human race, and yet deeply interesting to them, and seriously affecting their well-being,) under a deep impression of duty, and with an earnest desire to promote human happiness and virtue, we regard as following in the train of the Prophets.
Every Minister of Religion, then, whether he speak from a cathedral, or from a conventicle, is there to speak those truths concerning his race, which from his conscience he believes to be of deepest import to them. In doing so, he is bound (or at least ought to be, and if it be not so, he should leave whatever post it is that enthralls him, he is bound to nothing but seriously-entertained and carefully-matured convictions. With what is received he has nothing to do, except as a fact, as a phenomenon, worthy however of his most serious reflection ; his business is with truth, not with system, whether received or rejected. If, then, this be the point after which a true-hearted Minister of Religion will struggle, to be in the noblest aspects and most important varieties of the word, a Truth-teller, then how wide becomes that sphere which has hitherto been regarded as so narrow! How many labourers in science, in morals, in metaphysics, in political relations, become caterers of facts and principles for him, -supply him with material for more thoroughly making out, and more successfully enforcing the reality of human duty, the bliss of virtue, the wisdom of obedience to those laws of our constitution, whether moral or material, whether human or individual, which such extended analysis and investigation gloriously unfold and fully substantiate !
From the past, it would appear that the duty of Ministers of Religion has been regarded as consisting in giving their own, or their Church's, or the received understanding of the Bible. Now the Bible contains a collection of the most important records in the history of God's dealings with his creatures, that is, in the history of man; and as long as it is the rallying point round which mankind gather, to reap high religious impressions, and a deep sense of duty, we never can be very ignorant of Divine requirement.
But the Bible has been regarded and studied, as though containing the whole history of man that was of any serious importance, and for which all other histories should be regarded but as illustrations, as though too containing all the abstract truths in reference to the human race, which it was necessary to know. So that to be thoroughly acquainted with the original languages, and the illustrative criticism of the Bible, was to be, mentally at least, and as far as instruction extends, a thoroughly accomplished Minister of Religion, a Prophet of Truth : than which it is clearly no greater absurdity to suppose that Isaiah and the other prophets would have been mentally and educationally accomplished for their work, by being thoroughly acquainted with the laws and institutions of Moses, with the circumstances that illustrated, and the opinions that threw light upon them,-instead of, though first indeed thoroughly imbued with these, knowing besides fully and deeply, the wants and requirements of their nation at that time; the movings to and fro; the vices, errors, powers, tendencies, prospects of their race.
Just so would a man be, coming now into the world with a critical acquaintance with the Scriptures, that chiefly, or that alone. It is true that he could not come with a better basis, if his study of this important and deeply interesting portion of the history of Providence's dealings with our race has not been a narrow and exclusive one, as though this were all that the past has handed down to us of importance, or that the present unfolds to us of enlightening and good. We say, he could not come forward as a Minister of Religion with a better foundation, provided he only regard it as a foundation, and seek to enforce its high teachings with all the confirmatory and explanatory matter that modern knowledge is supplying, and that acquaintance with human nature and human wants, which the study of man and of his own age will give him.
When the Bible shall be studied as History; when we have learnt, not only the facts and principles contained in it, but also to distinguish which of those facts in their consequences, and which of those principles in their applications, are local and transient, which universal and permanent,—then will criticism,
having struggled against many a misunderstanding, and brought to light many a needed canon of interpretation, have accomplished its useful and philanthropic work. The study and the knowledge of the Bible, of all that is really and lastingly important in it, will be as simple as it is now complex; an infinity of labour and of talent will be set at liberty to add to the store of actual knowledge, and to speed on the course of knowledge reduced to practice, that is, Righteousness; men shall wonder at the tomes of wordy divinity, that its interesting page, read now with the light of discernment, and under the guidance of a few interpreting principles, has been oppressively forced to sustain ; religious Truth-telling will be a living, active, practical power, entering into the very home of our hearts, and the realities of our being; religious truth shall be brought to men's judgments in such a way as to be irresistible and undeniable, because stripped of all that is contingent and accidental (against which latter alone it is that the sane heart of man ever rebels); and invested with all the power that clear scientific discernment of the sequences of things, whether of good or evil, is sure to give it.
There is a power and meaning in that hackneyed sentiment of Pope's, which probably himself did not fully perceive: “ The proper study of mankind is MAN.” This, in connexion with the constitution of things around him, will best teach him the little that he is capable of knowing about God, and the much that he is capable of knowing about Religion, id quod religit, that which binds him.
And now one word in conclusion, lest the tenor of these remarks should have been misunderstood. The object of the ancient Prophets we believe to have been the formation of a high and holy character in the people of their nation. The object of a Christian ministry we believe to be the same. The first, for this purpose, dealt fairly and fully with all the influences and occurrences, the institutions and events, the connexions and relations of society, that could bear on the formation of character. In our opinion a Christian minister should do the same. To do this effectually, he will not only affirm what is good, but endeavour to prove it. No fact of importance to this object, then, in man's moral, physical, or social being, will be alien to him. But the education given him does not fit him for the adequate discharge of this office. Vastly too much time and labour are devoted to the exclusive study of those Records, the main features and most important deductions from which might, by a wiser process and with a more enlightened object, be mastered so as to speak with far greater moral effect, and a far more high and solemn power to the heart, than ever yet, studied in narrowness and exclusiveness, and not as part of the great history of Mind, they have been able to do.
We speak not, however, of the past. The past, thus employed, has solemnized us doubtless for the future. The studies, though exclusive, have impressed with the sense of religion the grandeur of a great moral aim. To accomplish this aim, however, all the influences at present stirring around life must be studied and comprehended, and not exclusively the history of any past age.
With these views, the Minister of Religion will stand, like the Prophet of old, an unshackled Truth-teller, free to declare whatever of noble and impressive, God has given his own spirit to be deeply penetrated with. He will meet, with no fear upon him but that of his solemn responsibility to the God of Truth, that noble weekly gathering of minds, taken off from mere material life, bent on the adoration of the Spirit of Good, after their own best, and purest, and most world-unshackled conceptions; met to think over the wrong and the right, the fleeting and the eternal, once more; to think on all that is defective around them, and within them; met to investigate the True; met to draw nearer to the Moral Leader of their Race, in all that is true and lasting, that is permanent and good.
Art.V.- REMARKS ON THE MINISTRY TO THE POOR.
PECULIAR forms and states of evil are ever calling for peculiar modes of reform. In matters of a political character (though the essential moralness of all that has man's welfare and happiness for its end will one day be balm, at least, more generally understood) recourse is naturally to be had to those embodiments of floating power which are kept up, not more for the purpose of preserving whatever is sound in the institutions of the past, than of rescinding, correcting, modifying, substituting, or adding whatever will contribute to the object which is always either de jure or de facto before them. And, however reluctantly and gradually, Legislation answers to these calls at last. The causes of political evil, when clearly and effectively shown to be such, are removed by the reformation of the institutions from which they arise; and as nations advance in knowledge, they may be more and more secure of obtaining from their governments all that they shall require as politically essential to their well-being,
But there are evils, for the removal or attempted removal of which we can scarcely be expected to wait until the Morality of Government shall be better understood. Of these there are none more striking than the wants and miseries of the under classes of society. The existence of these wants and miseries rests upon no hypothetical or visionary ground. In different degrees, corresponding with their different degrees of information upon the subject, all admit and all deplore them. The happiest cannot close their eyes against the fact, that there is, in those portions of society, a vast amount of wretchedness; and the deeper they search into the elements of which those portions are composed, the stronger becomes the conviction of the kind and the good, that something should be done on behalf of the fellowbeings who have so much to suffer and so little to enjoy.
If kindness and goodness could have met the evil, it would long ago have reached its maximum, and retired from it. Men's hearts and their purses have been feelingly and freely opened to the claims, even the silent claims, of the suffering and unhappy. To what, then, must we impute their failure? For surely that treatment cannot be considered successful under which it is found that the disease increases. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," when, instead of the ghosts of departed evils “revisiting the glimpses of the moon,” we have the evils themselves, in all their terrific reality, cumbering the earth, and tainting the air, and darkening the sun.
What that “something rotten” is, we do not think it requires