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Bryant, Whittier. Gone the historians Bancroft, Motley, Prescott. Gone the great orators and statesmen. Gone also the era when young men like Channing and Starr King, Swing and Beecher, and Brooks, entered the ministry. And, remembering that in New England the clergymen have founded the academies and colleges, and that in scores of families like the Emersons there had been seven generations of clergymen who had wrought in the pulpit, the lecture-hall, or taken up the pen of author or editor, the great educator predicted disaster would befall our eager American society. But not the emoluments of commerce alone explain the drift of young men away from the ministry. The ministry is not an easy life. No profession makes demands so numerous or so stern upon nerve and brain, upon mind and heart. In former times, when books were scarce, religious newspapers unknown, and knowledge was not universal, preaching was not a difficult task, and it was easily possible for a clergyman to preach a sermon three hours long in the morning and repeat it at night without the congregation recognizing it. Now all the hearers have books and libraries, and the pew of to-day is wiser than the pulpit of yesterday. The time has come when the preacher must be a universal scholar. He must make himself an expert in social reform; master the facts as to illiteracy, vice, and crime; study the tenement-house question; all social movements in connection with settlements and methods of Christian work. He must carry his studies into physiology and hygiene to note how low and abnormal physical conditions affect the conscience and the spiritual state.
Giving up the theological reading with which the clergymen of a former generation have made the people acquainted, he must study history, politics, the rise of law, and free institutions, the movements of art, the history of philosophy, and, above all else, no facts in connection with science must be permitted to escape his notice. For his illustrations he must draw from the sciences of stars and stones and animals and plants. To keep step with his work he must read each month some review that deals with the general plans, like “The Forum" or "The North American Review," the review upon finance, upon reform, upon labor, upon education, upon his own special prob
lems, not forgetting the foreign quarterlies and magazines. In addition to all this, there will be at least a hundred volumes each year that he must go through thoroughly, if possible, or hurriedly, if crowded. There are also public duties and demands. To-day he enters a home in which some woman with little children clinging to her dress and crying bitterly, stands beside a young father, now dying. He returns home to find some youth, the child of poverty and orphanage, but of genius also, who needs help and assistance. When evening falls, there comes the intellectual stress and task, with a thousand duties for which preparation must be made.
Immeasurable the demands upon nerve and brain. Now and then one arises who is called to the ministry by his distant ancestors, whose father loved moral themes, and had a vision and the outlook upon the realm invisible, whose mother had enthusiasm, imagination, and moral sentiment-gateways, these, through which God's angels come trooping—and father and mother, through heredity, call the child to the ministry. For such a one teaching is automatic and preaching is instinctive, and the work itself is medicinal and recuperative. But even upon these men like Robertson and Channing and Bushnell, the mere strain of delivery is such as to send them home from the pulpit in the state of nervous collapse from which they do not recover until Tuesday or Wednesday. With many the recoil dismounts the cannon. In these days no man would be equal to the difficulties of the ministry, were it not the happiest of the professions, bringing its own rewards, carrying medicine to cure its exhaustions.
No other occupation or profession offers such liberty and personal freedom. The politician is a thread caught in the texture of his party and has little freedom. The merchant must buy and sell what the people want, and must serve them. The lawyer must move in the groove digged by the mistake or sin of his client, while the clergyman is freely permitted to teach the great eternal principles of God, and he steers by the stars. Great is the power of the press. But the press writer has no personal contact with the reader; must report things evil often as well as good. Great is the power of the law. But law is litigious, and the jurist must struggle oftentimes for weeks
or months to settle some quarrel or correct some injustice, dealing, as Webster said, with negatives oftentimes. Great is the power of the physician. But unfortunately, in influencing his patient, his personality must first of all work upon an abnormal condition, and when the patient is restored to health and ready to receive the physician's personality, his task is done. But this advantage inheres in the ministry. It emphasizes the great positive moralities, it handles the most powerful stimulants the world has ever known-eternal truths. It plies men with divine inspirations. It deals with the greatest themes life holdsGod, Christ, conscience, reason, sin, salvation, culture, character, duty, immortal destiny. When all other arts have been secured, it teaches the art of right living.' When all other sciences have been mastered, it teaches the science of conduct at home, in the market, and the forum. It puts its stamp, not into wood that will rot, not into iron that will rust, not into colors that will fade, but into the minds and hearts that are immortal. Multiply the honors and emoluments of the other occupations one hundredfold, and they need them all to compensate for the happiness and opportunity of the Christian ministry, seeking to make the church a college for the ignorant, a hospital for hurt hearts, an armory from which man may receive weapons, that opens up springs in life's desert, plants a palm in life's burning sands.
Well did John Ruskin say that the issues of life and death for modern society are in the pulpit. “Precious indeed those thirty minutes by which the teacher tries to get at the separate hearts of a thousand men to convince them of all their weaknesses, to shame them for all their sin, to warn them of all their dangers, to try by this way and that to stir the hard fastenings of the doors where the Master himself has stood and knocked yet none opened, and to call at the openings of those dark streets where Wisdom herself hath stretched forth her hands and no man regarded. Thirty minutes to raise the dead in.” And he who hath known the joy of encouraging some noble youth who is discouraged; the rapture that comes when one who hath been long snared and held in the cruel trap hath been freed; the joy of feeling that blind eyes have come to see things unseen and deaf ears
to hear notes that once were unheard; or hath swung wide some dungeon door to lead forth some prisoner of conscience, will know that there is no profession that conceals such hidden springs, receives such hidden messages, is fed with such buoyancy and happiness as the ministry—the Christian teacher, who brings divine truth to men for God's sake and for man's sake.