Page images
PDF
EPUB

interest -- of which the publication of these Lectures may

be considered one of the indications - in doctrinal preaching. We shall devote the remainder of this article to a consideration of what doctrinal preaching ought to be, and of its importance in a practical point of view.

Popular usage has associated the word doctrine, to a great extent, with the distinctive tenets of the Orthodox sects. And among Unitarians, those discourses have been called doctrinal, whose purpose has been to controvert the Trinity, the five points of Calvin, or some peculiar article of faith taught in the prevailing creeds. But this, at any rate in the best sense of the words, is not doctrinal preaching. To attack opinions which we believe Christ never taught, is not preaching the doctrines of Christ. That is doctrinal preaching, not where error is assailed, but where Christian truth is set forth.

This Unitarians have felt, and it has been followed to some extent by a corresponding change in their preaching. It is impossible that their attention should not be drawn more or less to the mischief resulting from erroneous religious views. But of late, their minds have been fixed more on the practical importance of the positive articles of their faith. The same causes have in general made their preaching less controversial and more doctrinal.

This kind of preaching is greatly needed. We need to have the great doctrines of our faith proclaimed and enforced, not in the way of controversy, but as positive and infinitely important verities; and enforced, too, not as mere abstract truths, but in their practical relations and bearings. There may have been some ground for the charge — notwithstanding its great injustice in most respects — that our preaching is the preaching of mere morality. Not that we do not believe in doctrines of infinite moment, and teach them from the pulpit, but we have too often preached morality separate from doctrine, and sometimes almost to its exclusion. For example, not long since the superintendant of a Sunday school wished to find some printed discourse, which he might read to the teachers, on the Paternal Character of God. And yet, though he looked through quite a number of volumes, he was not able, with a single exception, to find a discourse on that subject. There was an infinite abundance of sermons on the Divine Nature, on the Unity of God and the Trinity, on the Divine Sovereignty,

on the Omniscience and Omnipresence of God; but on this great doctrine respecting the Divine Character, which lies at the foundation of Christianity, and which, by determining the nature of the Divine government, determines down to the minutest point the nature of all Christian precept and promise, of all religious duty and hope, - on this first and all-important Christian doctrine you can hardly find, in the whole circle of published sermons, a single discourse.

Perhaps it may be said, that though not often discoursed upon separately, the great doctrines are always implied. It may be true. But they should be more than implied. What can be the ultimate value of preaching which attends solely to the fruit on the branches, and gives no heed to the roots? These great doctrines should not be left to be merely inferred from some accidental illustration, or passed over with a commendatory sentence; they should stand in the front of the discourse, and from these should the morality of daily life be deduced and by them enforced.

What we need is a positive preaching of our great doctrines, - not apologetically — not by way of attacking others - but affirmatively, and as what we believe them to be, the fundamental principles of our religion. The doctrine of Regeneration, for example; - it is not sufficient to attack some supposed error, but its necessity, its absolute necessity to every sinner, is what should be urged without ceasing on the minds of men. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which manifests itself in Providence, which speaks through the word of God, the comforter and helper and guide, ever present in Divine influence and spiritual aid, this is to be preached, and not forgotten in attacks on the Trinity. The doctrine of Retribution ; — let the Christian minister not think it enough to do away every error which others hold, but let him preach what he believes, - that there is a retribution, certain and fearful, that we do live under a righteous moral government, and that the way of sin is forever the way of ruin. Let him preach that which Christ so strenuously and constantly insisted on, the necessity of repentance and the certainty of the Divine forgiveness on repentance. And whatever the doctrines of the Gospel may be, let him preach them and give them a place proportioned to their magnitude and importance in our religion. As far as may be, giving little heed to the errors

of others, let him preach his own religious faith - not essays on morals — but his religious faith, as the foundation of all morality.

If, as a religious teacher, one is to reach the consciences of men, or to move their feelings, it must be mainly done through the prominence and force with which he can present these great affirmative doctrines.

Nay, even if the sole purpose were to convert men from what we think to be doctrinal error, we believe this to be the true course. We are not likely to make many converts to our views, except among those who, whatever their lives may be, feel the importance of religious truth and a religious character. It is not sufficient for such men that

you

show that the doctrine of Election or Total Depravity is not true. They feel the want of a positive faith, and if they are led to a change of views, it will be because a positive faith, which better accords with Scripture and better meets the religious wants of their souls, is presented to them. They want truth to believe, and not merely error to reject. And the preaching that furnishes that, though errors are never referred to, will more than all controversy remove these

errors.

And not only are they to be preached affirmatively; but to be rested upon as first and fixed principles. They are the foundation, Jesus himself being the chief corner-stone. Do not apologize for them, as if ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Do not think it necessary always to defend them from the light of nature. Let them rest on the words of Christ; and let it be the preacher's business to unfold and enforce and apply them to human duty and human trials.

Have confidence in their power. Have faith in Jesus Christ. If the preacher believe that Jesus spake with a Divine authority, let him speak as if he so believed. If the doctrines of Jesus are of God, do not think they need elaborate defences. Their truth, like the sun, is revealed by the light which they carry with them. If they are from God, they need only to be fully stated, to commend themselves. They will have such an adaptation to the real wants of the soul, will so describe its dangers, so awaken its reasonable hopes and fears, and so solve its great problems, that they will never he listened to by heedless ears. Let the preacher trust in them — trust in their efficacy - be

lieve that they are the power of God unto salvation, and that in them is a living force to move the world.

If the religious instruction of the pulpit leave out of view the great doctrines on which Christian morality depends — if it be half philosophy and half Scripture - if we think that no express revelation of Christ can stand firmly until we have fortified it by vague arguments of our own drawn from the light of nature, it will be as it is with “one that beateth the air.” Other things being equal, that preaching will be most effectual where there is most reliance on Jesus Christ, and where the superstructure is built on the solid foundation of his great doctrines.

The importance of inculcating the doctrines of Christianity will be obvious, if we consider what they are. We have but to look at them for a moment, to see that they concern the highest interests of man and take hold of his deepest feelings. The doctrine of a God, the moral Governor and righteous Judge, the present Providence and universal Father, — this doctrine establishes duty on a foundation stable as the throne of the Almighty, and at the same time touches her sternest requirements with hues of love. The doctrine of Immortality, —it explains why man is so endowed, and subject to such varied discipline. It solves the awful mystery of death and repeats at every grave the promise of the resurrection. The doctrine of Repentance and of Forgiveness on repentance, — so long as the world was ignorant of this truth, every remorse-stricken man sat in despair. This doctrine has broken down the Heathen altar, for it has taught that what God would have is righteousness, and not sacrifice. We need not refer to any other doctrines, to show that they touch on every point of human experience, and give an infinite meaning and value to what else were finite and all but worthless. It is not that the doctrines are unimportant, but that we do not appreciate their importance.

All this becomes more evident when we consider the vital connection between the doctrines of Christianity and the morality of Christianity. And this point deserves especial attention, because of the tendency so often manifested to separate them, and even to put them in opposition, one to the other. The morality of Christianity, how often is it said, is admirable, divine; but its doctrines we do not understand. Let preaching concern itself with the duties

of life; but dismiss doctrines from the pulpit to the schools and the dark

ages. But it is a wretched and dangerous mistake. You cannot rend apart Christian doctrines and Christian morals. As well might you separate the light from the sun, and expect the former to illuminate the heavens after the latter was annihilated. The preacher who should attempt to enforce the morality of religion without its doctrines, would find that he had cast aside all that gave life and force and authority to that morality. Whatever it might be at first, he would make it a dead morality, without hold on heart or conscience.

This is true, in the first place, because the precepts of Christianity are but the application of the general principles contained in the doctrines to particular cases. The duties grow out of the doctrines, as the shoot and the full and ripened ear out of the root. Duties are but the human and practical side of the doctrines. Thus the duty of doing to others as one would be done by, grows out of and is the practical application of the great doctrine of the brotherhood of men.

From the doctrine, the duty derives its whole support. So true is this, that nearly all the benevolence which the world has seen, beyond that of instinct and impulse, has owed its existence to the reception in some degree or other, in some form or other, of this doctrine. In the ancient world men were by nature as kindhearted as now. But stranger and enemy were equivalent words. In the great cities of the Roman and Grecian world were altars and temples raised to Victory and Fame, to every selfish passion and every form of self-indulgence. But no hospitals, no retreats for the insane, the poor, the wretched, reared their walls amid the melancholy wastes of sorrow and misery which those cities enclosed. Men travelled to gain wealth or learning, but no one dreamed of a mission of any kind whose purpose was to communicate good. The different nations and races of men had as little sympathy for each other, as if they had been different orders of beings. It is the doctrine that all are children of one God, and thus brethren of one great family, that has bound the world together. Where it is really received, oppression and wrong must disappear before it. To whatever people Christianity has brought this doctrine, there has been seen among them an immediate change and elevation

« PreviousContinue »