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" Can sinners hope for heaven
Who love this world so well ?
While on the road to hell?"
The performance, however, is so exquisite that we do not think of these things, but listen in rapture to the voice alone. When the lady has finished her stanza, a noble barytone, also recognized as professional, takes up the strain, and performs a stanza, solo; at the conclusion of which, four voices, in enchanting accord breathe out a third. It is evident that the “first talent that money can command” has been “engaged” for the entertainment of the congregation ; and we are not surprised when the information is proudly communicated that the music costs a hundred and twenty dollars per Sunday.
What is very surprising and well worthy of consideration is, that this beautiful music does not “ draw.” In our rovings about among the noted churches of New York, — of the kind which “engage the first talent that money can command,” — we could never see that the audience was much increased by expensive professional music. On the contrary, we can lay it down as a general rule, that the costlier the music, the smaller is the average attendance. The afternoon service at Trinity Church, for example, is little more than a delightful gratuitous concert of boys, men, and organ; and the spectacle of the altar brilliantly lighted by candles is novel and highly picturesque. The sermon also is of the fashionable length, — twenty minutes; and yet the usual afternoon congregation is about two hundred persons. Those celestial strains of music, — well, they enchant the ear, if the ear happens to be within hearing of them; but somehow they do not furnish a continuous attraction.
When this fine prelude is ended, the minister's part begins ; and, unless he is a man of extraordinary bearing and talents, every one present is conscious of a kind of lapse in the tone of the occasion. Genius composed the music; the “first talent” executed it; the performance has thrilled the soul, and exalted expectation; but the voice now heard may be ordinary, and the words uttered may be homely, of even common. No one unac
customed to the place can help feeling a certain incongruity between the language heard and the scene witnessed. Everything we see is modern ; the words we hear are ancient. The preacher speaks of “humble believers,” and we look around and ask, Where are they? Are these costly and elegant persons humble believers ? Far be it from us to intimate that they are not; we are speaking only of their appearance, and its effect upon a cas ual beholder. The clergyman reads,
“ Come let us join in sweet accord,"
and straightway four hired performers execute a piece of difficult music to an audience sitting passive. He discourses upon the “ pleasures of the world,” as being at war with the interests of the soul; and while a severe sentence to this effect is coming from his lips, down the aisle marches the sexton, showing some stranger to a seat, who is a professional master of the revels. He expresses, perchance, a fervent desire that the heathen may be converted to Christianity, and we catch ourselves saying, “ Does he mean this sort of thing?” When we pronounce the word Christianity, it calls up recollections and associations that do not exactly harmonize with the scene around us. We think rather of the fishermen of Palestine, on the lonely sea-shore; of the hunted fugitives of Italy and Scotland; we think of it as something lowly, and suited to the lowly, — a refuge for the forsaken and the defeated, not the luxury of the rich and the ornament of the strong. It may be an infirmity of our mind; but we experie ence a certain difficulty in realizing that the sumptuous and costly apparatus around us has anything in common with what we have been accustomed to think of as Christianity.
Sometimes, the incongruity reaches the point of the ludicrous, We recently heard a very able and well-intentioned preacher, near the Fifth Avenue, ask the ladies before him whether they were in the habit of speaking to their female attendants about their souls' salvation, — particularly those who dressed their hair He especially mentioned the hair-dressers ; because, as he truly remarked, ladies are accustomed to converse with those artistes, during the operation of hair-dressing, on a variety of topics; and
the opportunity was excellent to say a word on the one most im portant. This incident perfectly illustrates what we mean by the seeming incongruity between the ancient cast of doctrine and the modernized people to whom it is preached. We have heard ser. mons in fashionable churches in New York, laboriously prepared and earnestly read, which had nothing in them of the modern spirit, contained not the most distant allusion to modern modes of living and sinning, had no suitableness whatever to the people or the time, and from which everything that could rouse or interest a human soul living on Manhattan Island in the year 1867 seemed to have been purposely pruned away. And perhaps, if a clergyman really has no message to deliver, his best course is to utter a jargon of nothings.
Upon the whole, the impression left upon the mind of the visitur to the fashionable church is, that he has been looking, not upon a living body, but a decorated image.
It may be, however, that the old conception of a Christian church, as the one place where all sorts and conditions of men came together to dwell upon considerations interesting to all equally, is not adapted to modern society, wherein one man differs from another in knowledge even more than a king once differed from a peasant in rank. When all were ignorant, a mass chanted in an unknown tongue, and a short address warning against the only vices known to ignorant people, sufficed for the whole community. But what form of service can be even imagined, that could satisfy Bridget, who cannot read, and her mistress, who comes to church cloyed with the dainties of half a dozen literatures ? Who could preach a sermon that would hold attentive the man saturated with Buckle, Mill, Spencer, Thackeray, Emerson, Humboldt, and Agassiz, and the man whose only literary recreation is the dime novel? In the good old times, when terror was latent in every soul, and the preacher had only to deliver a very simple message, pointing out the one way to escape endless torture, a very ordinary mortal could arrest and retain attention. But this resenrce is gone forever, and the modern preacher is thrown upon the resources of his own mind and talent. There is great difficulty here, and it does not seem likely
te diminish. It may be, that never again, as long as time shall endure, will ignorant and learned, masters and servants, poor and rich, feel themselves at home in the same church.
At present we are impressed, and often oppressed, with the too evident fact, that neither the intelligent nor the uninstructed souls are so well ministered to, in things spiritual, as we could imagine they might be. The fashionable world of New York goes to church every Sunday morning with tolerable punctuality, and yet it seems to drift rapidly toward Paris. What it usually hears at church does not appear to exercise controlling influence over its conduct or its character.
Among the churches about New York to which nothing we have said applies, the one that presents the strongest contrast to the fashionable church is Henry Ward Beecher's. Some of the difficulties resulting from the altered state of opinion in recent times have been overcome there, and an institution has been created which appears to be adapted to the needs, as well as to the tastes, of the people frequenting it. We can at least say of it, that it is a living body, and not a decorated image.
For many years, this church upon Brooklyn Heights has been, to the best of the visitors to the metropolis, the most interesting object in or near it. Of Brooklyn itself, — a great assemblage of residences, without much business or stir, — it seems the animating soul. We have a fancy, that we can tell by the manner and bearing of an inhabitant of the place whether he attends this church or not; for there is a certain joyousness, candor, and democratic simplicity about the members of that congregation, which might be styled Beecherian, if there were not a better word. This church is simply the most characteristic thing of America. If we had a foreigner in charge to whom we wiehed to reveal this country, we should like to push him in, hand him over to one of the brethren who perform the arduous duty of providing seats for visitors, and say to him: “ There, stranger, you have arrired; this is the United States. The New Testament, Plym. outh Rock, and the Fourth of July, - this is what they have brought us to. What the next issue will be, no one can tell; bus this is about what we are at present.”
We cannot imagine what the brethren could have been thinking about when they ordered the new bell that hangs in the tower of Plymouth Church. It is the most superfluous article in the known world. The New Yorker who steps on board the Fulton ferry-boat about ten o'clock on Sunday morning finds himself accompanied by a large crowd of people who bear the visible stamp of strangers, who are going to Henry Ward Beecher's church. You can pick them out with perfect certainty. You see the fact in their countenances, in their dress, in their demeanor, as well as hear it in words of eager expectation. They are the kind of people who regard wearing-apparel somewhat in the light of its utility, and are not crushed by their clothes. They are the sort of people who take the “ Tribune,” and get up courses of lectures in the country towns. From every quarter of Brook. lyn, in street cars and on foot, streams of people are converging toward the same place. Every Sunday morning and evening, rain or shine, there is the same concourse, the same crowd at the gates before they are open, and the same long, laborious effort to get thirty-five hundred people into a building that will seat but twenty-seven hundred. Besides the ten or twelve members of the church who volunteer to assist in this labor, there is employed a force of six policemen at the doors, to prevent the multitude from choking all ingress. Seats are retained for their proprietorg until ten minutes before the time of beginning; after that the strangers are admitted. Mr. Buckle, if he were with us still, would be pleased to know that his doctrine of averages holds good in this instance; since every Sunday about a churchful of persons come to this church, so that not many who come fail to get in.
There is nothing of the ecclesiastical drawing-room in the arrangements of this edifice. It is a very plain brick building, in a narrow street of small, pleasant houses, and the interior is only striking from its extent and convenience. The simple, old-fashioned design of the builder was to provide seats for as many people as the space would hold and in executing this design, he constructed one of the finest interiors in the country, since the most pleasing and inspiriting spectacle that human eyes ever be