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tell from the pulpit is this very circumstance that I write precisely as I would talk, and that my sermons are as nearly as possible extemporaneous effusions."
The reason why the plain "extemporaneous effusions” told was because “out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
F. W. FARRAR.
HERE could be no greater delusion than to imagine that
the influence and attractiveness of the Christian pulpit have gone. There never was in all Christian history a preacher who enjoyed a greater or more lasting popularity than Mr. Spurgeon enjoys to-day. The crowds that used to throng St. Paul's Cathedral when Canon Liddon preached there have never been surpassed. The Pulpit, instead of being weaker, is really growing stronger and stronger. The impression to the contrary is probably due to the fact that, for reasons into which I need not enter now, the average newspaper reporter has not hitherto been friendly to the pulpit, and has not been in the habit of regarding sermons as “good copy.” No class of public speakers in this country have been so persistently boycotted or disparaged by the Press as preachers But there are signs that this state of affairs is passing away, and that the Press and the Pulpit are beginning to realise the advantage of an honourable alliance in the interests of justice and humanity.
The Press, consciously or unconsciously, has exerted a very beneficent influence over the Pulpit. It has influenced preachers, for one thing, to talk English and to make themselves intelligible. It has been even more beneficial in dragging them down from the clouds where they had been too apt to sail in metaphysical balloons. It has mightily influenced them to deal with the plain practical interests of actual men and women. Many readers will recall the language in which Sir James Stephen referred to preachers whose abstractions had no reference whatever to the living men and women upon whom they were poured. That kind of preaching has to a great extent passed away. All sorts of subjects, at which our grandfathers would not have dared to hint in the pulpit, are now discussed there. Preachers do not hesitate now to use illustrations drawn from real life. I need scarcely add that this is exactly what their Master did two thousand years ago. His illustrations were taken from the men and women of His own time, and from the phenomena of nature with which His hearers were familiar. But a sort of pulpit style had grown up which was exceedingly artificial, stilted, and unreal. One small but significant symptom of the change in the direction of simplicity and genuineness which has come over the pulpit is the fact that the preacher of our own day does not speak of himself as “we” and “us," but simply as “I” and “me.” I can well remember the horror of some members of my own congregations when I first substituted the singular pronoun for the royal “we” in which I had been trained. Another remarkable symptom of the age is the fact that the old, artificial, elaborate, and exceedingly florid rhetorical style is at a great discount. At one time ministers of religion used to prepare elaborate and brilliant sentences worked up into climaxes which produced a great impression upon half-educated audiences. But the age has become so much more earnest that it will not stand that sort of thing except occasionally.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the new method of preaching is its intensely ethical character. George Eliot would no longer be able to accuse Christian preachers of “other-worldliness." They trouble themselves less and less about the other world, and they take more and more to heart the sufferings and the needs of this. It is one of the most curious phenomena of history that what I may call the intensely secular character of Christ's teaching should have been so long overlooked. The idea arose very early in our era that Christianity was too good for this world ; and men consequently thought they could attain its ideals only by living artificial lives apart from their fellows in monasteries or even by going to the further extreme of taking up their abode in some solitary cave in an African desert or elsewhere. At the era of the Reformation the whole civilised world was well aware that neither the monastic nor the solitary life was morally one bit better than the ordinary life of society, that in some respects it was very much worse. But the idea that Christianity was too good for this world still clung even to the Reformers, so they transplanted the fulfilment of the Christian idea to another world altogether. I need scarcely say that this notion is flatly contradicted in every part of the New Testament. The angels who saluted the Nativity of our Lord sang of peace on earth and goodwill among men. In the same way our Lord Himself taught us to pray that the will of God might be done by men on earth as angels do it in Heaven. In fact the whole of the Lord's Prayer refers to this world and to this life. When St. John closed the volume of Revelation with a glowing picture of the ideal city of God he was not referring, as is so strangely imagined, to Heaven but to earth. He tells us expressly he saw "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God."
All this is becoming more evident to the preacher of to-day, and is giving his teaching an ethical flavour which has never been so conspicuous before. We hear a great deal in the pulpit now about the evils of drunkenness, sexual vice, gambling, and
The sweating system is denounced, and the overcrowding of the poor is deplored. We have entered, in fact, upon the Johannine period, and all the most characteristic religious teachers of our day are disciples of St. John. They realise with him that the very essence of real Christianity is brotherliness, and that we are to prove our love to God by our love to one another. The result is that the modern pulpit deals very much less with metaphysical questions and protests loudly against the purely artificial distinctions that have too long been made between what is called “religious" and what is called “secular."
This new development of teaching is what has given rise to the present strange dislocation of political parties, and to the much discussed “Nonconformist conscience.” Mr. Herbert Spencer has said, with only too much truth, that at present we have two religions in this. country: one which we derive from the Greek and Latin authors and the other from the Old and New Testaments; one which we profess on Sunday and the other which we practise during the remaining days of the week. Mr. Spencer imagines that both of
these religions must exist for a time, but significantly enough prophesies the ultimate triumph of the Sunday religion. The modern pulpit is increasingly alive to the calamitous contradictions and inconsistencies of nineteenth-century Christianity; and it is strenuously endeavouring so to enlighten and strengthen the Christian conscience that twentieth-century Christianity may be of a piece and that men may apply the same moral principles to all the events of life, to business and civic duty and social intercourse as well as to so-called religious functions.
This has led to the development in the modern pulpit of what has come to be known as Christian Socialism, or as I prefer to designate it, Social Christianity. In a word, the modern teacher of Christianity believes that Christ came not merely to save individual souls-he believes that intensely—but also to reconstruct human society upon a Christian basis. The Kingdom of God occupies a. place in Christian thought that it has scarcely received before except in the teaching of some great Catholic preachers. We realise more and more how dependent the individual is upon his environment. We are not less conscious of the importance of individual regeneration, holding, indeed, with Horace Bushnell that “the soul of all improvement is the improvement of the soul.” But on the other hand the very highest improvement of the soul is scarcely possible except in a favourable social environment. Hitherto the laws. and customs even of so-called Christian countries have to a very great extent sacrificed the many to the few and made it quite unnecessarily difficult for men to live virtuous lives. But, as Mr. Gladstone once said, the ideal of the Christian statesman is to make it easy for people to do right and difficult for them to do wrong.
There is one other feature of present-day preaching which ought to be named : it has become less and less abstract and more and more concrete. In other words, instead of setting before men certain qualities and virtues as commendable, it has presented the. human life of Jesus Christ as the example we should follow. No doubt we are greatly indebted to the noblest Unitarian teachers for reminding us of this partially forgotten duty; just as, I might add, Mr. George Holyoake taught us many years ago those VOL IV.- No. 25.
truths of Secularism which are, happily, no longer neglected by Christian teachers. In the present day the tendency of the pulpit is more and more to teach that the true Christian is the Christlike Christian, and to repeat everywhere, with John Stuart Mill, that there is no better rule of conduct than this: What would Jesus of Nazareth have done if He had been in my place? Men are becoming more and more impatient of mere troversy, and perhaps even perilously disposed to accept any kind of doctrine if it is associated with a good and unmistakably beneficent life. We are somewhat apt to overlook the fact that false teaching, even if associated with a beautiful career, may still ultimately do irreparable mischief. But in the present reaction from the ecclesiastical and theological bitterness of the past, and in an intense realisation of the magnitude of the problem of sin and misery with which we have to struggle, men are very indifferent to doctrinal truth, and greatly appreciative of ethical service.
I have not ventured in this hasty paper, written under circumstances of great difficulty, to express opinions with respect to the merits or demerits of the most characteristic features of present-day preaching. I have simply appeared as an observant witness, to tell what I know. It will, of course, be understood that I am speaking of those preachers in all churches who are most typical of the time in which we live, and who have the ear of the public. Moreover, the various characteristics that have been enumerated are distributed among many men in the various branches of the Church of God. I have not been thinking of any particular preachers or school of preachers. At the same time I am persuaded that the general conception of modern-day preaching which I have given—which I apprehend is what I have been asked to give—is descriptive of the type of preaching which differentiates us from the past, and is becoming more and more predominant in all the churches.
HUGH PRICE HUGHES.