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' They, (the evangelical clergy) approve, they admire the Church in which they serve. They rejoice in being ministers of such a church. Instead of being indifferent to its continuance, their devoutest wish is, that it may stand firm on its basis. They consider it as the greatest of blessings to their country. They observe, with no little anxiety, separatism gaining ground upon it. And this, not from an invidious principle, but because hereby an alienation in perpetuity is produced in many minds, from a constitution, which they consider as best providing for the universal conveyance, and permanent publication of Christian truth. Its continuance they likewise consider, as the surest pledge of religious liberty, to all who wish for that blessing. And in this view, they pity the short-sightedness of those religious persons, who forward any measures, which make against the stability of the national church. They view them as men undermining the strongest bulwark of their own security and comfort; and conceive, that Protestant sects of every name, howerer they might prefer their own modes of religion, would devoutly pray for the support and prosperity of the Church of England, as it now stands—" sua si bona norint.” In short, the ecclesiastical establishment of this country is, in their views, what “the ark of God” was in the estimation of the pious Israelite ; and,“ their hearts tremble" more for that, than for any thing else, the stability of which may seem to be endangered in these eventful times. They would consider its fall, as one of the heaviest judgements that could be fall the nation.' pp. 128, 129.
Any such approach to the Dissenters, as is inconsistent with their professional engagements, is incompatible with the truth of this testimony. But let us go on to notice another imputation.
* I am constrained,' says the author, 'to admit that there is a great deal of truth in what is often alleged by their opponents, namely, that under their preaching there has arisen an unfavorable opinion of the body of the clergy. To excite a hatred of what is evil, is, undoubtedly, one purpose of Christian instruction. But while the preacher is attempting this, he must take care that he do not call forth the malignant passions. This he is almost sure to do, if he point out a certain set of men, as persons to whom his reprehensions particularly apply. The hearers, too generally apt to forget themselves, are drawn still further from the consideration of their own faults, when they can find a defined class of men, on whom they can fasten the guilt of any alleged error; on them they will discharge their gall, and mistake their rancor for righteousness.' pp. 154, 155, Sec. Edit.
Two questions arise on this point; first, how far an unfavorable opinion of the body of the clergy is just ; and secondly, what sort of influence the evangelical party have had in producing it. • The clergy as a body,' the author complains, are considered
by them and their adherents, as men who do not preach the gospel.'. If we understand him, he means to assert that the clergy as a body do preach the gospel; for we cannot suspect him of being so ridiculous, as to complain of their being considered in their just and true light. Here we have the very singular spectacle of gospel ministers exclaiming with bitterness against some of their brethren for preaching the doctrines of the new birth, justification by faith, the internal operations of the Spirit, and whatever else characterized the faith of the Reformers; which we have the satisfaction of learning, from this most liberal writer, are no parts of the gospel. Or, if he demur in assenting to such a proposition, it is incumbent on him to explain what are the doctrines distinct from those we have mentioned, the inculcation of which has excited the opposition of the clergy. We in our great simplicity supposed that the ministers styled evangelical had been opposed for insisting on points intimately related to the gospel; but we are now taught from high authority, that the controversy is entirely of another kind, and relates to subjects with respect to which the preachers of the gospel may indifferently arrange themselves on either side. We are under great obligations to our author for clearing up this perplexing affair, and so satisfactorily showing both parties they were fighting in the dark. Poor George Whitefield! how much to be pitied, who exhausted himself with incredible labors, and endured a storm of persecution, in communicating religious instruction to people, who were already_furnished with more than ten thousand preachers of the gospel ! To be serious, however, on a subject which, if there be one in the world, demands seriousness, it is an incontrovertible fact, that the doctrines of the Reformation are no longer heard in the greater part of the established pulpits, and that there has been a general departure from the truths of the gospel, which are exhibited in the ministry of a small though increasing minority of the clergy. The author knows this to be a fact, although he has the meanness to express himself in a manner that would imply his being of a contrary opinion. We wish him all the consolation he can derive from this trait of godly simplicity; as well as from his reflection on the effect which his flattery is likely to produce, in awakening the vigilance and improving the character of his newly-discovered race of Gospel ministers. With respect to the degree in which an unfavorable opinion of the clergy is to be ascribed to the representations of the evangelical party, we have to remark, that they possess too much attachment to their order to delight in depreciating it; and that they are under no temptation to attempt it with a view to secure the preference of their hearers, who, supposing them to have derived benefit from their labors, will be suf
ficiently aware of the difference between light and darkness, between famine and plenty. Were they to insinuate, with this author, that all their clerical brethren are actually engaged in the same cause and are promoting the same object with themselves, they would at once be charged with a violation of truth, and be considered as insulting the common sense of the public.
The author is extremely offended at Dr. Haweis, on account of the following passage in his · History of the Church of Christ.' “ Different itinerant societies have been established in order to send instruction to the poor, in the villages where the gospel is not preached. Probably not less than five hundred places of divine worship have been opened within the last three years." Dr. Haweis, in making this representation, undoubtedly conceived himself to be stating a simple fact, without suspecting any lover of the gospel would call it in question. The author's comment upon it is curious enough. It would be scarcely credible,' he says, were not the time and place marked with sufficient precision, that a clergyman, beneficed in the Church of England, was describing, in the foregoing passage, something which had lately been taking place in this country! It is surely very credible that there are five hundred places in England where the gospel is not preached; the incredible part of the business, then, consists in a beneficed clergyman' daring to assert it, who, according to the author, is a sort of personage who is bound never to utter a truth that will offend the delicate ears of the Clergy, especially on so trivial an occasion as that of describing the state of religion in England. What magnanimity of spirit, and how far is this author from the suspicion of being a man-pleaser !
After acknowledging that the ministers he is characterizing have been unjustly charged with infringing on canonical regularity, he adds,
Would it were as easy to defend them universally* against those who accuse them of vanity, of courting popularity, of effrontery, of coarseness, of the want of that affectionate spirit which should breathe through all the ministrations of a Christian teacher, of their commonly appearing before a congregation with an objurgatory aspect, as if their minds were always brooding over some matter of accusation against their charge, instead of their feeling toward them as a father does toward his children.' p. 157.
The reader has in this passage a tolerable specimen of the vanity' and effrontery' of this writer, as well as of that'objurgatory aspect he has thought fit to assume toward his brethren, not without strong suspicion of assuming it from a desire to court
* The word universally, marked in italics, was inserted after the first edition.
popularity. It would be a mere waste of words to attempt to reply to such an accusation, which merits attention on no other account than its exhibiting a true picture of his mind.
· As for the matter,' he proceeds to observe, of which the sermons delivered by some of them are composed, it is contemptible in the extreme. Though truths of great importance are brought forward, yet, as if those who delivered them were born to ruin the cause in which they are engaged, they are presented to the auditory, associated with such meanness, imbecility, or absurdity, as to afford a complete triumph to those who are adverse to their propagation. We are disgusted by the violation of all the rules, which the common sense of mankind teaches them to expect the observance of, on the occasion. It is true indeed, that something is heard about Christ, about faith and repentance, about sin and grace; but in vain we look for argument, or persuasion, or suavity, or reverential demeanor ; qualities which ought never to be absent, where it is of the utmost importance, that the judgement be convinced, and the affections gained.' p. 158.
Unfair and illiberal in the extreme, as this representation is, it contains an important concession,—that the lowest preachers among them have the wisdom to make a right selection of topics, and to bring forward truths of great importance; a circumstance sufficient of itself to give them an infinite superiority over the apes of Epictetus.'* A great diversity of talents must be expected to be found amongst them; but it has not been our lot to hear of any, whose labors a good man would think it right to treat with indiscriminate contempt. As they are called, for the most part, to address the middle and lower classes of society, their language is plain and simple; speaking in the presence of God, their address is solemn; and, as becomes the ambassadors of Christ, their appeals to the conscience are close and cogent. Few, if any, among them, aspire to the praise of consummate orators; a character which we despair of ever seeing associated, in high perfection, with that of a Christian teacher. The minister of the gospel is called to declare the testimony of God, which is always weakened by a profuse employment of the ornaments of secular eloquence. Those exquisite paintings and nice touches of art, in which the sermons of the French preachers excel so much, excite a kind of attention, and produce a species of pleasure, not in perfect accordance with devotional feeling. The imagination is too much excited and employed, not to interfere with the more awful functions of conscience; the hearer is absorbed in admiration, and the exercise which ought to be an instrument of conviction be
comes a feast of taste. In the hand of a Massillon, the subject of death itself is blended with so many associations of the most delicate kind, and calls up so many sentiments of natural tenderness, as to become a source of theatrical amusement, rather than of religious sensibility. Without being insensible to the charms of eloquence, it is our decided opinion that a sermon of Mr. Gisborne's is more calculated to convert a sinner from the error of his way,' than one of Massillon's. It is a strong objection to a studied attempt at oratory in the pulpit
, that it usually induces a neglect of the peculiar doctrines of Christian verity, where the preacher feels himself restrained, and is under the necessity of explaining texts, of obviating objections, and elucidating difficulties, which limits the excursions of imagination, and confines it within narrow bounds. He is therefore eager to escape from these fetters, and, instead of reasoning out of the Scriptures,' expatiates in the flowery fields of declamation. It would be strange, however, if the evangelical clergy did not excel their contemporaries in the art of preaching, to which they devote so much more of their attention. While others are accustomed to describe it under the very appropriate phrase of doing duty,” it is their business and their delight. They engage in it under many advantages. Possessed of the same education with their brethren, they usually speak to crowded auditories; the truths they deliver command attention, and they are accustomed to ascend the pulpit under an awful sense of the weight and importance of their charge. Under such circumstances, it is next to impossible for them not to become powerful and impressive. Were it not indelicate to mention names, we could easily confirm our observations by numerous living examples. Suffice it to say, that perhaps no denomination of Christians ever produced so many excellent preachers; and that it is entirely owing to them, that the ordinance of preaching has not fallen, in the Established Church, into utter contempt.
With respect to the remarks the author makes on the “hypochondriacal cast of preaching heard among them,' of their • holding their hearers by details of conflicts and experiences,' and of their . prosings on the hidings of God's face,'* we need not detain our readers. To good men it will be matter of serious regret, to find a writer, from whom different things were to be expected, treat the concerns of the spiritual warfare in so light and ludicrous a manner ; while the irreligious will heartily join in the laugh. It should be remembered that he is performing quarantine, purging himself from the suspicion of Methodism, and that nothing can answer this purpose so well as a spice of profaneness.
* In the second edition, the author has changed the term . prosings,' into discoursings.'