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spiritual edifice. All subsidiary knowledge is but the scaffolding
The wants of congregations are so varied, and the range of knowledge so vast, that every department of literature, art, and science may be made tributary to the preacher's influence. Referring to myself again, in my childhood and youth I had a passion for study, and tried to extend my reading in all directions. To some extent I studied the languages of Western Europe. It was merely curiosity; but in my ministry I have found that every single branch of study which I ever perused has been of advantage to me. It has strangely been my lot to attend ministerial meetings in all those countries of which I had studied previously the languages; and, although not able to talk to any great extent in those languages, I could soon understand the deliberations of my brothers.
In keeping abreast of the events of the day, spend not too much time on the
daily press or the lighter class of magazines. It is one of the triumphs of our civilization that we can have news at our breakfast-table from all parts of the globe ; but the minister should guard against devoting too much precious time to this kind of reading, which is not essential to his important work. Like the bee, he should know how in a few moments to gather honey from the flower, and then fly away, not stopping to count the number of the petals or to delight in the beauty of their colouring. In scientific and theological reviews there are frequently articles of great value to the preacher, and which he may carefully read and ponder; but he is very liable to spend moments in this way which ought to be devoted to more solid reading or to pastoral duty. Still, it is difficult to fix any precise rule on this subject. A wide range of topics is discussed by the daily press, and among the mass there are always some with thoughts of great value. The preacher must grapple with specious forms of unbelief, which are put forth in the columns of the newspapers; he must understand the arguments which are employed to sustain them, and be able to refute them.
The subjects for preaching cover an immense field, and only a glance can be cast at them. Negatively, the object of the
preacher is not solely to preach or enforce morality, considered from any heathen standpoint. He will preach a high and pure morality; but he will present it as issuing from a heart filled with love to God and man. Morality springing not from the heart is like a tree from which the limbs which bear frnit are pruned off and cast away; while Christian morality is like a fully developed, symmetrical tree, in which the life-giving sap permeates every limb and twig, causing it to bear fruit abundantly. Nor is the object of preaching natural religion, or the unfolding of the laws of nature. No amount of knowledge of metaphysics can change the human heart, any more than the knowledge of machinery can set it in motion. Truths of importance may be drawn from the operation of natural laws. Men may be taught the influence and results of their actions ; but these have not the power to change the destiny of a human soul. The pulpit is the place for the Master. The preacher utters divine thoughts, and he who tries to draw attention to himself degrades and pollutes the sacred desk. Luther once said: “I must know nothing of Luther; will know nothing of him. I will preach nothing of him-only Christ. The devil may take Luther if he can. If he leave Christ in place, it will be well with us.” The great question for the pulpit to ask is, “What think ye of Christ ? ” and the work of the preacher is to give a clear exposition of His character, manifested in the salvation of men.
The minister should grapple with great themes, and not occupy the minds of the people with trivial subjects. The issues of eternity may rest on a single sermon; and in some way, directly or indirectly, every sermon should lead to Christ. With what wonderful topics is the pulpit permitted to deal! The character of God; the responsibility of man as a creature of God, formed by His Divine hand, bearing the impress of His image, the object of the Saviour's death, the possible Son of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ. Then, too, his glorious destiny ; his conflict with and triumph over death and the grave; the resurrection of the body; and, strange and incomprehensible as it may appear, his immortality, coeval with the duration of
The Law and the Gospel.
God Himself! Then, too, the thought that his destiny is in his own hands; that, accepting Christ and obeying the Divine will, he may dwell beside the throne of God for ever; or, rejecting Christ and the offers of salvation, he shall be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." These are the topics for the minister's preaching which interest every one of his hearers. How pitiable is it to hear leaders of thought say that they cannot tell whence they came nor whither they are going; that life in its origin and nature is low and unworthy of a Creator ; that eternity has no voice which has reached the sense of time! Springing out of these great questions is the whole circle of subjects relating to human duty. All men are brothers, because we are the offspring of a common Father. We cannot deny or ignore that common brotherhood, or shrink from its duties, without dishonouring the God and Father of us all. Not only must these important topics be carefully studied and selected, but the relation of each to the other is a matter of no small moment.
The law of God should be distinctly set forth. The congregation should be gathered as round the base of Mount Sinai, as from the summit is heard the voice of God in those commandments which are eternal and unalterable in their character. The effect of preaching the law will be that some hearts will be opened; others may be repelled, and say, “Let God not speak to us any more." Some will object to the preaching of the law, and say, “Prophesy better things." But still the law must be preached. It brings the sinner to a recognition of his sins, by showing him that he has transgressed God's holy law, and the fearfulness of the doom impending over him. The law must be followed by the Gospel. The awakened sinner must be pointed to the Saviour, that he may see that, deep as his transgression may be, the blood of Christ can wash it away. There are many preachers who love to talk of the Gospel alone. They dwell especially on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Christ. This is well. It is more than well. It is essential. But sometimes they neglect these matters of the law, ard
The Law and the Gospel.
assign them to a place in a past age, claiming that men now can be best moved by love alone. They may thus rear a beautiful structure; but its foundation is on the sand. No true edifice can be raised without its foundation's being dug deep by repentance toward God. The Gospel has no significance except as it is based on the positive law, which Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil. The law without the Gospel leads to service; the Gospel without law leads to antinomianism; the two combined produce “charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience and of faith unfeigned."
THE PREPARATION OF THE SERMON.
The preacher is brought face to face with his life-work in the preparation of the sermon. In a few days the Sabbath will call him to the pulpit. But what shall he preach? The question seems to stare at him from every book which he reads, and to meet him wherever he goes. If he has not yet formed the acquaintance of his congregation, it is not strange that he should be at a loss what subject to select. There are, however, general subjects which can never be out of place. Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; the duties of prayer and holy living; the rewards of the righteous and the fearful forebodings of the impenitent, are topics which may be presented to any audience. But if the minister has formed an acquaintance with his congregation, out of its peculiar wants and circumstances topics will naturally be suggested. If a man is earnest in his work and fully perceives the danger of many in his congregation, the vices prevalent in the community, the fascinations and allurements which beset the young, the living issues which press upon the community around him, his head and heart will be so full that the question will not be so much, What shall he say? as, Which of the many topics shall be first presented ?
Just at this point is found the clear distinction between the true minister whose heart is yearning for his people and who longs to preach to them the Word of Life, and the one who simply fills the pulpit because the time has arrived and he must somehow address his congregation. I would not apply the old adage, "When you have nothing to say, say nothing," for it is important that the regular services be held, that the people sing and pray and worship before the Lord; but I would advise that,