Зображення сторінки

lowing for national characteristics, it has seldom reached, and perhaps never surpassed, since, were, as a class, not remarkably learned; and an occasional passage from the Fathers, short and introduced without effort, was all which, in general, attested their familiarity with the writings of ecclesiastical antiquity.

Luther was far less learned, certainly in the earlier part of his career, as well in Ecclesiastical History as in the writings of classical antiquity, than Erasmus; yet his earnest, but rude and artless eloquence struck a chord which vibrated through all Christendom. In his attacks on established errors he made at first very little use of history. He employed the strong language of common sense, and his appeals were effectual, and shook to their centre the citadels of canonized superstition.

If we turn to examples of more recent times, and among ourselves, the authors of the most admired productions of the pulpit will tell you, that in the composition of their sermons they have derived little or no help from Ecclesiastical History, that it has been to them a barren field, that they have never loved, nor cultivated it, that they have never brought off from it a solitary flowret that was pleasing to the eye, or the least fruit that was inviting to the taste.

Nor is there anything singular in this. It is so with regard to ethical learning. A person may know little of ethics as a science, and may be wholly unacquainted with its history; he may be ignorant of the systems of the various authors who have written upon it, in ancient and modern times; yet the value of his preaching, viewed merely as preaching, may not be impaired. He may stand up in the pulpit and utter strains of the most thrilling eloquence, and the consciences of his hearers may bear testimony to the fidelity of his appeals. So far as his public addresses are concerned, he may be a very exciting and successful preacher, may have the power of a Whitfield to rouse attention, and stir up the soul to its inmost depths, though he may never have read a line of such writers as Butler, Hutcheson, Wollaston, or Price, or Smith, or Kant, or Jouffroy. He may have searched no further nor deeper for the foundation of morals, and sanction of morality, than the will of God revealed in the Bible, and may have no more theology than is needful to enable him to call Tillotson an atheist; yet he may for the time preach with as much effect, and to a common audience, with a great deal more, than a Bossuet or a Taylor.

But is it well that he should be thus ignorant, or that he should be ignorant of Christian History? The question is one I need not ask. It is surely not desirable that a minister should limit his acquisitions to the knowledge he can turn to immediate account. I am not much of a utilitarian in my views on this subject. Or if I am a utilitarian, I would not confine my regard to mere present and palpable utility. I think we should all look beyond immediate and temporary effects - a mere ephemeral popularity. We should look to a permanent influence and usefulness. There is nothing which will sooner degrade the ministry than the resting content with just such a measure of attainments, as the present exigency demands, or as is necessary to please for the moment the popular ear, though the temptation to this was never greater than now.

There are certain intellectual qualifications which it is important the clergy should possess, which will not benefit them directly and immediately, except so far as they are in themselves sources of gratification, and a pleasing self-consciousness, but which are necessary to secure to them the permanent respect of the community. They add to the high standing of the minister in society. They are not merely an ornament of the profession, but they dignify and elevate it, and in the end augment its power and usefulness. All intellectual accomplishments contribute to this effect; and for this reason, if for no other, a liberal and wide culture of the faculties is, I conceive, to be recommended to the ministers of religion.

If this liberal culture be desirable in the minister, it would be superfluous, as it seems to me, to offer any argument to prove that the study of Ecclesiastical History should not be neglected. Of this a minister cannot with propriety be ignorant. From its very intimate connexion with his profession, he may

be expected to know something more about it than other well educated men in the community, just as the physician or lawyer is expected to be better acquainted than others, not simply with the practice of law or medicine, but with the past history of the art or science, — its fountains, growth, and the various revolutions it has passed through. Such knowledge may not perceptibly help their business, may not procure the lawyer more briefs, or the physician more patients; yet they rank higher in our esteem, and must rank higher in their own for possessing it, and we feel that the want of it is a blemish. "Just so for the minister to be ignorant of the history 1842.] Importance of Liberal Culture in the Minister.


of the religion he professes to teach, its character and fortunes in past ages, the phases it has assumed, the effects it has wrought on society, and the modifications it has itself received from the progress of intellect and the agency of human passions, must be felt to be a defect. It is discreditable to him. It involves, to say the least, a sort of indecorum. It does not, to use the old phraseology, harmonize with our idea of the nature and fitness of things; with our abstract conception of what a minister should be.

But to descend from this position, which may be thought to savor a little too much of idealism for the present day, and to be seeking a footing in the clouds, (though such notions were , current when I was young) there are, if I mistake not, indirect, but substantial and positive benefits, which the minister will derive from the study of Christian history.

An acquaintance with a few traditionary dogmas and a little sectarian divinity have been all, which have frequently, heretofore, until within a short period, been thought essential to the education of a preacher; I do not say universally, for there have been honorable exceptions. For some time past more liberal ideas have been gaining ground; but there is still room for ad

The character of the times, and the condition of knowledge and progress of intellect in other departments of human inquiry, and the direction which speculative minds are taking, are certainly such as require attention to the state of theological science, and should keep the mind alive to the importance of historical research. There are demands of the age which must be met, questions of deep import, some notice of which must be taken, which it will not do always to pass over in silent contempt, and a reply to which requires us to go back to the first elements of belief and knowledge in the human soul, to obviate objections and put an end to doubt.

But independently of all considerations of this sort, and of all questions relating to the historical basis of Christianity, and its defence, the minister has no lack of motives to the study of the history of his religion. It is a history intrinsically important; so far as the subject, — the development of man's spiritual nature, during a period which has witnessed the extinction of ancient civilization, and the reorganization of society in modern times,- is concerned, the noblest of all histories. And putting the study of it on the basis of a comprehensive utility merely, it has strong claims on his attention. A knowl- 30 S. VOL. XV. NO. I.




edge of it may not tell immediately, but it will tell in the course of a life of ordinary length. Occasions will occur on which its uses will be manifest.

The minister must contend for the simplicity that is in Christ. He must preach the pure truths uttered by the founder of his religion. He must endeavor to form a just conception of these truths; he must separate them from human additions ; he must labor to disengage them from the mass of error, by which they have been overshadowed and darkened in past ages. In doing this he must become a reformer. He must remould the Christianity of his day, and bring it back to its original pure elements, and thus in some measure take the attitude of a controvertist. He must combat false doctrines grown venerable by age. He must lay his hand, gently but firmly, on time-hallowed associations, and expose abuses sanctioned by prescription, and the authority of some as great names as have ever adorned humanity. This is the least pleasant part of his duty, but it is sometimes necessary.

In performing this task he will be compelled to make use of the lights of Ecclesiastical History, that part of it particularly denominated in modern times the history of dogmatic theology, or history of the doctrines of Christianity. He must trace the origin and progress of the corruptions, under which the simple truths of the gospel have been buried and well nigh extinguished. He must point out their source in human weakness, ambition, and selfishness, in superstition and false philosophy, in the modes of thinking foreign from the principles of the religion of the humble Nazarene, which the converts from paganism, from time to time, took along with them in passing over to Christianity, and unconsciously blended with the new faith ; for they could not be expected at once to emancipate themselves from all their former modes of thought, and all the philosophical notions in which they had been educated. Such a result was not possible.

The advocate for the simple truths of the Gospel will find it indispensable sometimes to adopt this method, in order to meet the objections of his adversaries, for error is ever fond of intrenching itself behind the defences of antiquity, and the general belief of the human mind. To illustrate what I mean by an example, the Trinitarian asserts that his faith is old, that it was from the beginning, that it has always been the faith of Christians, and this fact, he argues, affords a strong presump

tion that it was taught by Jesus and his Apostles ; for how else, he asks, can we account for its early and extensive prevalence ? Now this objection is certainly entitled to a reply, and the answer must be sought in history. From this it is to be shown that appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the doctrine formed no part of the belief of the primitive church; that it is clearly to be referred to the learned converts from heathenism; that the first distinct traces of it, found in


Christian writing of acknowledged antiquity and genuineness, appear in the Dialogue and Apologies of Justin Martyr, the earliest of those converts of whom we have any remains ; that it had its origin in that confused mixture of the philosophy and traditions of nearly all nations, which, united with a spirit of allegorizing, and strongly tinctured with oriental mysticism, was taught in the schools of the Alexandrine Platonists in the second and third centuries, and with them passed into the Christian Church, where it received from time to time various modifications and additions, till it assumed the form, very nearly, which it has since retained.

I am stating nothing which is not familiar to you. I take this instance simply as illustrating one of the uses to which a knowledge of Ecclesiastical History may be appropriated. It assists us to explain other errors which have cast a dark shade over the religion of the Son of Mary. Thus we trace the doctrines of modern Calvinism back to the stern old African, the bishop of Hippo, who found the germs of them in Manicheism, of which he was for some years a disciple, before he became an orthodox Christian, and of which he always seems to have retained a certain taint.

The argument against Popery which proves most embarrassing to its supporters, if I may be pardoned an allusion to the subject here, is the bistorical one, because Popery ensconces itself in what it considers as the strong hold of tradition. The Oxford controversy is but a form of the Popish, and the combatants use weapons drawn from the armory of ancient Christian bistory. This controversy does not disturb us, in this vicinity, but there are parts of our country in which its influence is sensibly felt. It has rendered arrogant pretensions more arrogant; it has relighted a spirit of bigotry, and emboldened intolerance and exclusivenees.

A writer in a recent number of one of our Literary Quarterlies, circulated somewhat extensively, I believe, and enjoy

« НазадПродовжити »