페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

Article III.- HENRY WARD BEECHER.

TIce Sermons of Henry Ward Beecher in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn. From verbatim reports. By T. J. Ellinwood.

Plymouth Pulpit; First Series: September, 1868—March, 1869.

Plymouth Pulpit; A Weekly Publication of Sermons. 18691870. New York: J. B. Ford & Co., No. 39 Park Row.

One cannot help experiencing a twinge, call it of modesty or shame, when he attempts to forestall posterity and to write a critique of a living contemporary, of one whom he may call a friend. No one likes to praise or blame a man to his face. Mr. Beecher, perhaps, is an exception to other men. He has had praises that have exalted him till he has touched the stars with lofty head, and vilifications that have sunk him to the lowest abyss. He probably by this time is so used to such words that he "cares for none of these things." We, however, must still confess to a certain shamefacedness in this matter, and for that reason declare that we are not talking of Mr. Beecher, but only of the popular preacher, the preacher to the people, although before we get through we may make some particular mention of him by way of forcible illustration.

Who are the people? When we apeak of the peo;>le in connection with the monarchical and aristocratic countries of the Old World, we do indeed have a different idea in our minds from that which we have in speaking of the people of our own country. In the Old World the people form the lower classes?, the subject and abject classes, with little or no cultivation, the rude, unwashed, unknown; but with us how different! Among what we call the peopls there are all grades of intelligence and education, as may be seen in any of our religious congregations or assemblage for political purposes. In fact, the true idea of the people is not that of the educated or the ignorant classes, but the great body of humanity, who have the common attributes of humanity—reason, conscience, and heart—who have souls that Christ came to save. These are to be reached with the gospel. The truth is to be so preached as to pierce through the accidental, and to come to the essential, in humanity. Prejudices and opinions are not to be addressed, but minds and souls. These minds and souls made to God, under whatever garb or form of humanity they be, are to be reached by the truth which God also made. This is to be done by having a genuine love and sympathy for the people. Honor to the scholar who is a true-hearted loving man, for he holds the world in his hand; but the mere scholar sometimes loses utterly this power of sympathy with common men. He contemns and despises them in his secret heart because they do not know the things he does. He looks upon them as belonging to the barbarous world of Philistinism. He is not their brother. He does not love them. He can talk eloquently about humanity, but he can respect nothing but learning, and those whom he esteems learned. He belongs to a caste. He is of the few, not of the many. He has worked out of the ocean-currents of human life into a side-eddy, or pool, where he goes round and round in a ceaseless circle. He has in this sense at least become a smaller man, though a more learned one. Now with such a heart, though he may be a good man still, is he fit to preach? He has in fact too little of the spirit of the gospel. He has lost sight of the large interests ot humanity, and therefore with all his scholarship and discipline of thought he is a dry man, an nnmagnetic man, an ineloquent orator, a barren preacher, one who cannot reach a living soul; and what honest man with homely thoughts and common sorrows will care for what he says, or go to him for counsel or strength in his soul's troubles? There is too little common ground or love between them.

And, again, to win this royal name of a preacher to the people, one must be willing to preach so plainly that the peoplt can understand him. He must come down from the high and lofty style to the plain style—to "the low Btyle "—of Augustine. And since we quote Augustine, we will quote him again to the same point, which, great genius as he was, he faithfully illustrated in his own preaching; he says: "It is better that the learned should find fault than that the people should not understand." The people must first know the truth, and then the truth will make them free; and is it not a greater intellectual achievement to make an illiterate man clearly understand what the act of Faith is, than to construct a metaphysical theory of faith that shall interest the most philosophical mind in the audience?

Then, again, to be a popular preacher in the true sense—one must preach on the level of common peoples' thoughts and ideas. Popularity depends on an intuitive perception of what interests the people—what ideas, facts, arguments, illustrations, come home to them and are received with eagerness and delight. The preacher must not strike too high nor too low, but must gauge the common mind with happy exactitude. Not that he may not sometimes lift himself and his audience into a higher plane of ideas, for the common mind is not devoid of strong sense, rapid perception, and the power of being moved by great thoughts; but one may stray far out of the popular way of thinking, and get into abstractions. He must go right to the heart of the matter. He must be great enough to comprehend the popular mind, to know the avenues that lead to it, and he must especially be willing to confine himself to the present—to the last war rather than to the last Punic war—drawing his illustrations from the house, the field, the market, from the sky that every one sees every day, and the earth that every one treads every day. He must make use of the true, not the artificial proof. The motives thiit impel men to bargains and trade, they understand better than transcendental reasons. The real rather than the ideal interests them. There must be some foundation of practical truth in what is said, for the popular mind wearies of pure invention and keeps on the solid earth, where, too, there are springs of poetry and beauty. Such a preacher was St. John Chrysostom in the old Greek empire, of whom the people said, it was better for the sun to cease shining than for him to cease speaking.

And yet, again, in order to be a preacher to the people one must preach with feeli/ng and conviction. It must be a real thing and not something put on. Here has been the power of great preachers from the apostles down. They have preached not merely with the accent but the reality of belief. They have spoken with the enthusiasm of love and faith. And they have had good reason to do so; for this is the gospel which has proved stronger than Roman legions, which has subdued kingdoms, and proved itself the strongest thing in the world. The power of God has been in this gospel. Its new religion of love has been the only religion equal to the conquest of the world and of the unconquerable heart of man. It has gone forth in the power of pure goodness—the power of the Cross—and has shown itself to be the wisdom of God unto salvation. Now if such a religion which has renewed the face of the earth and which is the omnipotent word of Life, is not preached with enthusiasm and with something of the prophets' bold joy in the Lord and in the word of his power— then it will not reach the people, nor be the living word of God to their souls. Preachers cannot preach formal sermons and expect to hold the people. The age demands for its religion, either to be soothed or to be saved—either ritualism or a living faith. It will have a religion of pleasing forms, rites, images, processions, altar-dressings, incense-burning, candles, flowers, in which not only Protestantism but Christianity will prove a failure, or the primitive spirit of faith, and the true love of man, must be revived in the preachers of Christianity.

The field now opened in our country for the preacher is an inspiriting one from its difficulty as well as from its greatness. There is a great want to be met as well as a vast field to be occupied. While every material interest is advancing, there is danger that true Christianity, or spiritual religion, will be left behind. The forms of Christianity are changing. Religious denominations are disintegrating, and reuniting, if they reunite at all, in new combinations. The strife is renewed between the ancient formalistic and authoritative idea of the church and the free idea (what in reality we esteem to be the Puritan idea) springing from a more popular theory, one not depending upon forms, or even upon rigid dogmas, but representing rather the inward spirit and life. The Church of the Future so much talked of will be the body of those who are animated and unified by the spirit of Christ, who cherish a common personal love and obedience of him as Lord and Head, and who draw from him the principles of a divine life. Not dreaming philanthropists, or radical reformers, orAugustinians. Arminians, or Calvinists, but Christians—gathered out of all other churches and religious bodies, they will constitute a living church, organized from a similar principle of life, and comprising in a more comprehensive and vital analysis the faith, intelligence, and growing religious strength of the land. No genuine evangelical element, or true doctrine, will be lost, but it will find fit if simpler and diviner forms of expression than it now does in our best creeds and symbols—perhaps than our purest Puritanism exhibits. This Church of Christ will give its strength to works of real goodness and to the moral and spiritual redemption of man. It will oppose sin and selfishness in all their forms personal and social. It will be a church of living souls, not of dead formulas. Therefore we believe that tor a true ministry of Christ, courageous, honest, pure, able, eloquent, spiritual, there never was opened in the history of the world or int any land such a field as in our country. Timid and time-serving preachers cannot stand up in the tremendous rush Of material interests; they cannot stem the tide of scopticism; they cannot show their heads in the wild storm of conflicting opinions that darkens the heavens and confuses all things—but only the strong and true—those who resolve to serve Christ and preach truth to the people—who are men full of the Holy Ghost— they can rule the storm and make head against it. Such strong leaders of the people are called for, and we cannot longer forbear reference to one to whom these remarks have pointed, as to him who deserves above any other living American minister the name of a great popular preacher. Other ministers of Christ may be more singly devoted to the work of saving souls; other ministers may be a hundred-fold more profound theologians, but few preachers living, or who have ever lived, have greater power with the people to do them good, than Henry Ward Beecher. While he is preeminently a popular preacher, he is not, in the common sense of the term, a sensational preacher, whose false popularity has

« 이전계속 »