صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

garments, which it can look upon only as new finery? Why turn the little one's thoughts from its mother's love, and its mother's coffin, to look around for admiration at its new apparel? We would protest, in strong terms, against this idle and preposterous custom. It can do no possible good, it certainly does harm. It is bad enough to train up our children to vanity in the ball-room, and at the tea party; let us cease to profane our funerals to the same purpose. It is disgusting enough to observe the conscious look of gratified self-love, with which little girls and boys wear their new dresses of scarlet, and white, and purple; but to see their melancholy weeds worn with the same air, and displayed for admiration, there are no words to express the sense of revolting; and one would suppose the very possibility of such a scene, would be sufficient to prevent any friend from ever corrupting, in this way, the simplicity of childhood.

We beg that in these remarks, and in all which we make upon these subjects, we may not be misunderstood. We speak freely, but would not needlessly wound any one's feelings. We know that we are upon a delicate topick, and that many in the tenderness of their grief, would receive a proposal to lay by their mourning, or even to refuse it to their children, as a proposal to insult the memory of the dead, and profane the place of their rest. They are influenced by universal example, and with the best and purest feelings hold this usage sacred. We would not treat their feelings or their conduct with other than sincerest respect. It is not against them that our remarks are directed; anu if the time could ever come, when none such should be among the recently bereaved, we would hold our peace for their sakes till that day. But sacred as their feelings are, he who considers the matter without prejudice, will see that they are founded on notions and customs, which cannot be defended, and which, however innocent to many, are to many also mischievous. These mischiefs we would expose; and though we do it with the apprehension, that we may wound some spirits, which we would rather soothe, we are at the same time encouraged by the persuasion, that if their early impressions are against us, the natural sentiments of all are in our favour.' It is the prevalence of these 'natural sentiments,' that we desire. If

they could be restored, we should think much gained to the cause of religion, and to the true consolation of the troubled.

The next custom, on which our author remarks, is that of publickly asking the prayers of the congregation for the afflicted, by name. This, he contends, is useless, since the afflicted are always remembered of course in the prayers of God's house, and would be so peculiarly, when the minister should know of cases, which peculiarly demand it. He thinks it worse than useless,-oftentimes a mere form,-embarrassing to the mourners, and wearisome to the congregation, and not seldom perplexing to the minister.

There undoubtedly is ground for these objections; but they seem to be directed against the abuse of what in itself is a laudable expression of religious feeling. Properly viewed,' some one has said, 'notes are requests of one in a religious fraternity for the intercessions of the rest, and may be, and I hope are, made a help to piety and brotherly love.' They are sometimes merely formal, and offered by those who never come to church for any other purpose than to offer them; and they are sometimes tediously dwelt upon in a too particular and prolix enumeration in the prayer. But have we not reason to think that the great majority present them from a sense of religious duty, and with a religious sentiment? Do they not, on account of them, take a deeper interest in the devotion of the sanctuary, and esteem themselves more responsible for their attention to that service? And since all are more affected by what is direct and personal, than by what is general and abstract, may we not suppose that the congregation, especially friends, will join with stronger devotion in those supplications, which concern individuals, than in the unapplied intercessions for the sons and daughters of affliction? It seems to be an evidence of this, that the congregation is perceptibly hushed to a profounder stillness at this portion of the service. Devout and benevolent emotions may in this way be excited and cherished, which otherwise might not have existed. We should be slow therefore to abolish a custom, notwithstanding its acknowledged inconveniences, which yet is associated with long established sentiments of piety, and which unquestionably ministers to the spiritual peace and improvement of many. We feel the force of objections; and yet should be

[ocr errors]

unwilling to lose one of the few forms, which exist amongst us, of a personal acknowledgment of dependance on God and religious obligation.

The writer next adverts to the custom of preaching funeral sermons, a custom, which we believe is disappearing, and which it is astonishing should have existed so long and so generally; though the circumstances of our early ancestors are rightly said by our author, to account satisfactorily for its introduction. Some ministers have been in the habit of writing occasional sermons on account of every death among their people; and what has been the consequence?

'These discourses, where they are frequent and common, do become intolerably tedious to the people who hear them. I have formerly had some opportunities for observation, and I never have known any congregations in which the subject of death was so utterly wearisome, nor any assemblies over which it spread such a lethargick dulness, as those, which are frequently called to listen to funeral addresses and funeral sermons. The truth is, that the topicks of the preacher,—unless he resorts to giving the characters of the deceased, a resort not to be thought of,-the topicks of the preacher on these occasions are very few; and solemn as they are, they may be, they must be worn out by constant repetition. And the solemnity and importance of the subjects in question, make this result all the more lamentable.' p. 11.

We should say with our author, that the giving of characters is a resort not to be thought of.' But in fact it has been thought of but too often. It has been with some preachers a habit. The consequences have been such as might be expected. Something must be said of every adult who has died; and in care to avoid wounding the feelings of bereaved friends, that something must be favourable and kind. Thus the dignity, and not seldom the veracity of the pulpit has been sacrificed, and the voice of human adulation and indiscriminate eulogy been suffered to profane that holy place, which should be sacred to virtue and truth. And after all, as many mourning friends have been offended and scandalized, as have been gratified or improved. We think that the characters of the deceased should be most rarely touched in a sermon. A minister is of all men the least likely to know the true character, or at any rate the whole character, of his parishioners; and in his honest friendship may eulogize those who deserve no praise, and, through mere ignorance of what

every body knows but himself, be thought to prostitute his pulpit to worldly purposes, or from unworthy motives. There are some rare cases in which eminent excellence should be praised,-better among the obscure, than among the elevated and affluent. It is well to avoid the appearance of evil. It is well to throw off the reproach from Christ's ministers of courting the worldly and great. We think that there is danper of errour too in sermons at the funeral of ministers. Why should they always be panegyrical of the dead? Why not rather admonitory to the living? Why should preachers be forever found pouring out praises at the tombs of their brethren?

We recommend the following paragraph to the most attentive consideration of ministers, and to the candid perusal of people. It contains the substance of the maxims which should guide all preachers in their ordinary duties, so far as relates to the present subject.

'The most unexceptionable rule for a clergyman, if I might be permitted to suggest one, would seem to be this ;-to take into the account the cases of affliction in his parish, as he does other circumstances, and to let them, in common with others, guide his preaching. He may be sure, that the most of his hearers, unless under the influence of strong prejudices, do not wish to be noticed by a sermon especially adapted to their case. The subjects of frailty and death, of affliction and bereavement, will of course have an important place in his instructions and exhortations. He will consider it as a part of his office to comfort and to profit those that mourn. He will often introduce reflections for these purposes, incidentally, and sometimes in full discourses. He will see the propriety and feel the desire of doing this, soon after any instance or instances of mortality, that may call any of the congregation to mourning and sorrow. When an afflicted family enters the sanctuary for the first time after their bereavement, he will naturally wish, though he may not always be able to gratify his feelings, to introduce some subject of discourse, which will be grateful and consoling, or profitable to them. And many in affliction will perceive this to be a more delicate and truly kind attention to them, than any more direct and formal notice. The general practice here recommended will save a clergyman from many suspicions and jealousies of those around him, the bereaved from many pains and agitations, and the body of the congregation from much weariness and dissatisfaction in divine service. Death will be a more solemn subject; while with the parade and the declamation, will pass

away a portion of the stupid unconcern and morbid superstition that now attaches to it.' pp. 11, 12.

[ocr errors]

Concerning the mode of celebrating funerals,' our author 'has said a few things, to which we feel inclined to offer some slight objections, while we fully acknowledge the justice of his general remarks. He speaks most particularly of the inexpediency of making long addresses at the house of mourning, and makes the following observations, which we earnestly wish might be pondered and felt in all their power, by those who fancy that a minister neither sympathizes with sorrow, nor cares for souls, because he is silent,-when his silence in truth may proceed from the very opposite cause. A man who is cold and at ease, may easily make a formal harangue. Deep feeling may render him dumb. But our author says it

better than we can.

'Besides, how feeble are all such exhortations, compared with the actual scene! Why should we not sometimes pause, and listen to the voice of God? When he sends death among us, it becomes us in the presence of such a teacher to be silent and thoughtful, or to break the stillness of the house into which death has entered, only with the voice of supplication. We want not then, to hear the harangue of a feeble man, when the presence of the dead fills us with awe beyond all that man can awaken. It is true, we must be allowed to have our different impressions; and taking this liberty, I must acknowledge that I can enter into the feelings of a clergyman, who finds himself almost unable to open his lips amidst these solemnities, while the sighs of affliction reach his ear, and the remains of mortality are before him, and it seems as if the sense of mortal infirmity must press upon every heart. I have felt as if no words could find utterance but the words of prayer,-none but the cry of our weakness to Almighty God, but the supplication of the frail and the dying to the Father of life.' p. 13.

We think it is stated too strongly in the paragraph following this, that the only valuable purpose for which we visit the house of mourning is to comfort the afflicted, and that there is something of selfishness in going for our own improvement. Not to dwell upon this, however, we must be permitted to present to our readers one further extract, with the strong feeling and truth of which we wish they might be deeply impressed. After saying, that we go to the house of affliction to testify our respect and sympathy, to comfort those who mourn; he proceeds:

« السابقةمتابعة »