Page images

language and literature is the story of Martin Luther's pulpit.' Webster through stately oration, Rufus Choate through impassioned address, James Anthy Froude through polished essay, have alike affirmed that the town-meeting and our representative government go back to that little pulpit in the Swiss city of Geneva. In the realm of literature, also, it is highly significant that Macaulay and Morley declare that Shakespeare, Milton, and Tennyson received their literary instrument as a free gift from those monks named Cadmon and Bede, and those pastors who gave us the King James version of the Bible. Modern sermons may have become “dry as dust,” yet the time was when the English pulpit united the functions of lecture-hall and library, newspaper and book. For the beginning of our Saxon speech, Müller and Whitney take us back to the cloisters and chapels of old England. But Addison affirmed that the sermons of two preachers, Tillotson and Barrow, were the standards of perfection in English writing, and projected a dictionary that had for its authority the words and phrases used in the writings of these two preachers, who, the essayist thought, had shaped English speech and literature. Lord Chatham once referred the dignity and eloquence of liis style to the fact that lie had committed to memory the sermons of the same Barrow.

In our own land, speaking of the pleas for patriotism and liberty that were heard in the pulpits of New England just before the Revolution, Emerson said the Puritan pulpits were “the springs of American liberty.” While in the realm of education, Horace Mann notes the fact that one pastor in New Hampshire trained one hundred men for the learned professions, and another country pastor one hundred and fifty students, including Ezekiel and Daniel Webster.

Great, indeed, has been the influence of war, politics, commerce, law, science, government; yet we must also confess that the pulpit has been one of the great forces in social progress. Be the reasons what they may, the prophets of yesterday are still the social leaders of to-day. To-morrow Moses will reënter his pulpit, and pronounce judgment, and control verdicts in every court of this city. To-morrow, as Germans, we will utter the speech that

Luther fashioned for us, or as Saxons use the idioms that Wycliffe and Bunyan taught our fathers. To-morrow the groom and bride will set up their altars, and, kindling the sacred fires of affection, they will found their home upon Paul's principle, “The greatest of these is love." Tomorrow the citizen will exercise his privilege of free thought and speech, and recall Guizot's words, “ Democracy crossed over into Europe in the little boat that brought Paul.” To-morrow educators will reread the Sermon on the Mount and seek to make rich the schools for the little ones who bear God's image. To-morrow we shall find that the great arts that enrich us were themselves made rich by teachers of the Christian religion. For great thoughts make great thinkers. Eloquent orators do not discuss petty themes. The woes of India lent eloquence to Burke. Paradise lent beauty to Dante, and strength to Milton. The Madonna lent loveliness to the brush of Raphael. It was the majesty of him “whom the heaven of heavens could not contain " that lent sublimity to the Cathedral of Angelo and Bramante.

Christ's ideal of immortality lent sweetness to Handel, and victory to his oratorio. It was the golden rule, also, that shotted the cannons of freedom against the citadel of slavery and servitude. The economic and political struggles of modern society,” says the great English economist, “are in the last analysis religious strugglestheir sole solution, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ set forth through the human voice.” In his celebrated argument in the Girard College case, Daniel Webster reviewed the upward progress of society, and asked this question: “Where have the life-giving waters of civilization ever sprung up, save in the track of the Christian ministry?” Having expressed the hope that American scholars had done something for the honor of literature abroad; that our courts of justice had, to a little degree, exalted the law; that the orations in Congress had tended to extend and secure the charter of human rights, the great statesman added these words: “But I contend that no literary efforts, no adjudications, no constitutional discussions, nothing that has ever been done or said in favor of the great interests of universal man, has done this country more credit at home and abroad than our body of


clergymen." Weightier or more unqualified testimony was never pronounced. Whatever the future may hold for the pulpit, the past, at least, is secure!

Having affirmed the influence of the pulpit in early and ignorant eras, some writers now declare the pulpit has entered upon a decline, and predict its final decay. In this age of books and papers, men question the need of moral instruction through the voice. Let us confess that never before have the instruments for happiness been so numerous or so accessible. The modern devices for increasing knowledge are now so artful and insistent, the very atmosphere of life is so charged with information, as almost to compel wisdom in the intelligent, and forbid illiteracy in the stupid. For the training of reason, the printingpresses toil day and night. For the training of the practical sense, science has increased books and stuffed the shelves with knowledge.

For the training of taste and imagination, the artist, printer, and photographer have united for multiplying pictures, until without expense or travel the youth can behold the faces of earth's greatest men, visit distant cities and historic civilization. Never before have educators done so much for child life and culture. As soon as the babe can walk, the kindergarten stands forth to allure the little feet into the temple of knowledge. For youth also the public schools have become so powerful and so rich that private schools find it difficult to live under their eaves. New forms of education also are developing. There are schools that train the hand to use the tool, train the arm toward self-support, fit the boy for business in the office or store, lend skill in laying the foundations of the bridge, or springing the truss over some building. Technical schools have arisen, teaching the use and control of the electric forces, the extraction of iron from crude ores, the changing of poisons into balms and remedies, the extraction of oils and medicines from the refuse of coal and wood. Commerce and trade, too, have become so complex that their mastery involves a liberal education.

The youth who has sharp eyes and a hungry mind can now have culture without college. He who handles cotton goods or silk or wool, and traces the rich texture back to the looms that wove them, ponders the mechanical de

vices that embroidered faces and flowers upon the silk, studies the dyes by which the white wool has become crimson or black, will find that each step lends knowledge. In all ages, life has been a university, and events have been teachers, but never before to the same degree as to-day. Indeed, the youth who in the morning goes forth to his task and walking along watches the method by which the streets are paved, the devices for lighting and draining them, the means by which the taxes are raised and streets paid for; who enters the street-car to journey backward in thought and note how the rude ox-cart has become the palace-car; who enters the market-place and the forum, to buy and sell and master the devices of production and distribution, will find that knowledge comes streaming in from every side. And to all these indirect instruments of culture must be added the new inventions called “culture clubs.” Recently a traveler in Scotland, standing upon a mountain cliff overlooking the sea, found himself in great danger. It seems that the gardener desired to beautify even the steep cliffs and precipices. Loading his double-barreled shotgun with seeds of flowers and vines, he fired the seeds up into the crevices of the rocks. Now otherwise, for men and women who have a few moments for rest between the hours, has life become dangerous. To-day, one can scarcely turn round the street corner without running into the president of some new culture club, who straightway empties into the victim two volleys of talk about some wisdom, old or new. The old shotgun is less dangerous than the new club.

Nor must it be forgotten that practical life itself is a university. The use of fire and wind and water; the avoidance of stones and animals and poisons; the mastery of the body, so as to maintain perfect health and high-pressure brain action without nerve-injury; the development of skill in carrying one's faculties through the home, the store, and the street; the gaining of one's livelihood—all these are instruments divinely ordained for the culture of the mind, and for the increase of knowledge and wisdom. And in this age, when ignorance is a luxury that only idiots can afford, and knowledge is universal, many have come to feel that the pulpit is a waning force. It is said that the teaching function has been superseded by the

press, by books, and magazines; that the ethical ideas of Christ are now so fully developed as to be organized into institutions, becoming automatic, and therefore no longer needing a special voice for their enunciation. John said of heaven, “There shall be no temple there," nor shall any teacher need to say, Know the Lord, for all shall know him. And many have risen up to-day who assert that the pulpit of yesterday has made unnecessary the pulpit of to-morrow; that Christianity has now been organized into our social, domestic, economic, and political institutions, thereby becoming self-publishing. Those kind-hearted persons who once wept lest the loom and the engine should destroy the working people are now engaged in shedding a few tears over the pulpit, soon to be sadly injured by the press, the magazines, and books.

Thoughtful men are not troubled lest some agency arise to dispossess the pulpit. In the last analysis, preaching is simply an extension of that universal function called conversation. It represents an attempt so to bring the truth to bear upon conduct and character as to cleanse the reason, sweeten the affections, and lend inspiration to imagination; so as to strengthen conscience and refine the moral sentiment. The foundation of all moral instruction is in the family, where children are influenced, not by attractions, but by the truth manifest in the voice of the father and the mother, who create an atmosphere about the child. Socrates came speaking, as did Plato and Paul, as did the world's Savior; and, so long as man remains man, preaching will remain, not as a luxury, but as the necessity of man's existence. So far from books doing away with the influence of the voice, they seem rather to increase it. In ages when there were no books, men sat silent in the cell or were dumb by the hearthstone. Now that a new book is published, like “The Memoirs of Tennyson,” or “Equality,” by Bellamy, or “The Christian," by Caine, these books, instead of ending conversation upon the themes in question, seem rather to open the flood-gates of speech, so that a thousand readers break forth into discussion who before were dumb. Great is the power of books! Wonderful the influence of the press! But the printing-press is only a patent drill that goes forth to sow the land with the great

« PreviousContinue »