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and has he mastered them? The world's progress is noted by its books, and the year that has not produced some vital book touching humanity and its needs is not a successful year in literature, much less in religion. The business of a preacher is to grow. He cannot stand still intellectually. At the close of the year he has either advanced or retrograded from what he was at its beginning. A review of the year ought to show him exactly what progress he has made, or what losses he has sustained, in his mental and moral life.
As a pastor he will also need to make inquiries concerning his congregation at the beginning of the new year. He does not live for him. self. What his life has been, intellectually and spiritually, it has been for others. The church is an aggregation of people bound together for the service of God and humanity. The church must grow, as well as the minister, and it will not grow unless he grows. No stream can rise higher than its fountain. No church, on the whole, will advance any more rapidly than the minister does. He needs to inquire whether the end of the year finds the church alive and with vigor going forward to the conquest of the world for Christ. He should not be satisfied if the closing year has not shown missionary zeal, as well as activity, for the church's immediate neighborhood. The minister, therefore, must take account of the church's progress or decay, as well as of his own.
Out of the new year is then to come for the minister enlarged plans for the future. He will sit down and estimate the possibilities of work for the next year. He will set before himself a goal that is to be attained, and, having done this, he will take account of his forces and the instruments by which he is to accomplish it. He will study the capacities of his people and summon all his powers to employ that people in the service of Christ. He will see that they have something to do beside attending church and prayer meeting, and he will make each one an officer in his army of conquest. He will at this time also form plans for his own intellectual improvement. He will not enter the new year with purposes half formed and decisions concerning himself undetermined. Any plan for life is better than no plan. A mistake in the selection of books to be read and of discipline to be gone through is far better than the mistake of having no ideal, of attempting no work. He will, therefore, select for the year a book of Scripture, perhaps, that he may master it chapter by chapter, and verse by verse, and word by word. He will select some work on social progress which will keep him abreast of the age on the movements of his time. Books of devotion for the stimulus of his spiritual life will not be overlooked. He will not omit to read works on his own profession, shedding some new light on the duties and privileges of the minister. Above all things, he will not enter on the new year without obtaining the blessing of God upon his thinking, his feeling, his studies, and his labors.
The true minister, as he goes forward in his lifework, will not allow occasions of great interest like this to become commonplaces. When
one stops making new plans and getting fresh inspiration and taking enlarged views of things it is evident that his youth has passed. It is one of the charms of young men and young women and young ministers that they are stimulated by these occasions. It is not only a pledge of their usefulness, but a mark of their youth, and when a minister thus ceases to make fresh determinations he is no longer young, whether his age be thirty or seventy. We plead with ministers that they shall not allow the freshness of their life to disappear, and not allow themselves to lack interest in occasions like the new year, which affords so much opportunity for encouragement and inspiration. One should celebrate, then, the new year in heart and in new purposes, as well as in external religious services.
VITALITY IN BIBLE STUDY. ALL should study the Scriptures, and it is safe to assume that all Christians do study them in a greater or less degree. The minister should study them both from a scientific and practical standpoint, but should especially study them as the expression of the vital truths with which his ministry has to do. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” and is not therefore a mere collection of books on separate topics, but is a collection of writings which contains God's revelation of himself to the world. There is a reading of the Scriptures merely as a matter of habit. We read so many verses or so many chapters from day to day, and so arrange it that the whole Bible shall be read in a year, and this is well. One who breaks off the habit of reading soon loses all interest in the book.
So far as one may judge from observation, ministers have studied the Scriptures for a few years past with special reference to the critical questions involved in them. They have spent much time investigating the authorship of the Pentateuch, in discussing the question of two Isaiahs or one, and in attempting to ascertain the dates of the several books, especially if there is any argument to show that it is different from the one recognized by the Church. These critical questions have been the absorbing ones, and they have largely determined the form of the preaching of the modern pulpit. They have led to the preaching of apologetics and the announcement of critical opinions. The books that have been in vogue as reference books for Bible study have largely been those of a scientific and critical character.
Too much attention is being given to this aspect of the Scriptures. If the preacher of the Gospel is not profoundly convinced that the book which he proclaims is the word of God, it were well for him to stop then and there, and determine the question finally. But he who would read the Scriptures as a minister should read them with a high purpose. He will find them worthy of study for their ethical teachings. What interest will attach to the book if the preacher begins with Genesis and goes through the whole Bible, to ascertain what ethical principles and laws are involved in it? Hidden these laws may be beneath general historic statements, but they will be found to underlie both the Old and the New Testaments. If one were to take up some modern work on ethics and read it in connection with the Sermon on the Mount, the concluding portions of the epistles of St. Paul, or the Epistle of James, he would enlarge his view of the moral dignity of Christianity and furnish for himself topics for discussion in practical life which would greatly enrich his pulpit ministrations.
Another purpose of reading the Scriptures should be for their doctrinal teaching. This involves the study of biblical theology. Books abound on the theology of the Scriprures, but the best text-book, after all, is the Bible without note or comment. He who studies the doctrinal statements of Paul in Romans and Galatians will find little additional light when he comes to read the scientific treatises on those subjects. He who would read these thoroughly and compare the works of the theologians with them will find that in the original books he has practically received the Christian teachings in their fullness. While the Christian doctrines are not formulated in the Bible their roots are all there, and out of them one can develop a system of truth which will be living to his own thought and which will be most fruitful as a basis of expositions for the people.
Another value in the study of the Scriptures for the minister is their historic examples. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is a book of life, of the movements of human beings as well as of nations. It is intensely vital, and the old characters of the Scriptures afford the choicest field of illustration in the Christian sermon. The Church will never grow weary of illustrations taken from the Bible. The preacher needs to be so familiar with them that he will not handle them in the old, stereotyped way, but will employ them as apt illustrations of the point he has in view. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, and David furnish in their lives not merely instruction, but example and illustration which will be ever fresh to those with whom the pulpit bas to do.
He will be a poor student who fails to study the Scriptures for spiritual inspiration. Every minister needs a book of devotion. Many such abound, and should be kept at hand either on the table or in the pocket. What blessing has Thomas à Kempis brought to the world ! How bis maxims and consolations have cheered and helped the believer in the duties of life! But we may find richer material for the spiritual life in the psalms of David, in the prophecy of Isaiah, in the teachings of Christ, and in the epistles of St. Paul. These books are alive with spiritual truth, the food of the soul. A passage held in memory during the day will keep life sweeter and make one work better. What seems to us important is that the minister should make his reading of the Bible fresh, vital. It should not be a mere scholarly, critical, cold discussion of authorships and language and text, but should be a study of those deep, inspired truths which God has made known to man in his sacred word, and which it is the duty and privilege of the preacher both to understand and so to proclaim that others will understand and feel.
A LITURGICAL SUGGESTION.
It is well known that many of our liturgical forms, such as the admin. istration of the sacraments, the marriage ceremony, and the burial of the dead, come to us as a heritage from the Church of England. We may not question the united wisdom of the Church, for it is often assumed that the whole world cannot go wrong, but it is fitting to suggest that some of the modifications have been for the worse and not for the better. This is particularly true of the marriage ceremony. Our form is well adapted to the uses of the people, in that it allows for a modified ceremony in accordance with the wishes of the parties. At different times modifications have been made by the General Conference. In 1864 the part concerning the use of the ring, when the parties desired it, was inserted. Not long ago a request was made of a minister of our Church, who was to perform a wedding ceremony, concerning the giving away of the bride, and he was asked whether it would be possible to have the question inserted in our liturgical form. The minister replied, suggesting that the question, “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” might be inserted at the same point which it occupies in the Protestant Episcopal ritual. This was accordingly done, and the parties were satisfied. It might be fitting for the next General Conference to make this insertion in our ritual, leaving it optional with the parties to employ it or omit it. This would satisfy many who would otherwise prefer to use the ritual of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
When the minister mentioned came to look over the matter further he found that our ritual places the benediction upon the married couple immediately after the declaration of their union, whereas the Episcopal prayer book places it at the close of the service. There would seem to be a logical connection in its following the pronouncing of the parties husband and wife, but it seems also proper that the ceremony should not close with the Lord's Prayer. As the service now stands the parties to the contract kneel down while the minister prays, and at the conclusion of the prayer they rise and the ceremony is ended. It would be better, it seems, if the Episcopal form were kept almost intact. Ours is the more brief, and is, in that regard, preferable, but otherwise it is a change for the worse and not for the better. In its present form the ceremony closes abruptly, which should be avoided in some way.
Should this suggestion be not deemed important there might be at least a form of benediction added which would meet the difficulties above suggested. If the suggestion meets the approval of ministers who are engaged in the active duties of their office as a fitting one, the attention of the General Conference might be called to the matter and the order of the prayer-book be restored.
ARCHÆOLOGY AND BIBLICAL RESEARCH.
THE RELIGION OF BABYLONIA. BABYLONIA, now generally regarded as the cradle of the human race, possessed, as the monuments of that land clearly show, a very high degree of civilization at least four thousand years before our era. Professor McCurdy, an eminent authority, maintains that the Babylonian language, even at that early period, was in an advanced stage of decay. The antiquity of this once great world-power and its intimate relations with Palestine from time immemorial make it a subject of profound interest to the biblical student. Till recently we were dependent for our knowledge of Babylonia upon the few allusions in Herodotus and a few other ancient writers, and upon the disconnected and incidental references in the Old Testament Scriptures. Happily, however, the past half century, with its archeological discoveries, has opened an entirely new field to our vision. These discoveries afford us not only direct information regarding the earliest civilization and institutions of the Euphrates and Tigris valleys but also light upon many an obscure passage in the Bible. Many a Teutonic theory has thus been exploded; and now it is far less common than it was twenty-five years ago to brand much of the Old Testament as myth and legend.
There have been no more satisfactory results in any field of archæology than in that of Babylonia and Assyria. Though not one twentieth of the mounds and ruins of these two countries have been examined, even partially, yet enough has been accomplished to enable scholars to write with tolerable certainty a connected history of these long-lost empires. We now possess the original books—clay, stone, or metal, to be sure, yet none the less valuable for that. Besides these tablets huge palaces and immense temples have been unearthed. These tell us not only of the greatness of the people but also of the nature of their civilization, their institutions, and especially their religion.
The construction and the arrangement of their temples, with their sacred utensils and mural decorations, to say nothing of the inscriptions, afford us bases of comparison. The contents of the tablets or clay-books show the intimate relation between religion and the State, between the priestly and the ruling classes of ancient Babylonia. The temple or the sanctuary of the local divinity was closely connected with the palace of the earthly ruler. Though the king was the immediate representative of the gods yet it was the priest who interpreted their will to the ruler and to the subject. He was occupied, not only in his priestly functions as a propitiator of the offended gods, but was also actively engaged in formulating laws, especially such as would secure the blessings of heaven. Moreover, the great temples of Babylonia served as the depositories of laws pertaining not only to religion, but also to the State.