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DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE CLERICAL CHA
[In a Sermon preached before the University of Cambridge, at Great
St. Mary's Church, on Sunday, July 5, being Commencement Sunday.]
1 CORINTHIANS, IX.-PART OF THE 27TH VERSE.
Lest that, by any means, when I have preached to
others, I myself should be a cast-away.
These words discover the anxiety, not to say the fears, of the writer, concerning the event of his personal salvation : and, when interpreted by the words which precede them, strictly connect that event with the purity of his personal character.
It is extremely material to remember who it was that felt this deep solicitude for the fate of his spiritual interests, and the persuasion that his acceptance (in so far as it is procured by human endeavours) would depend upon the care and exactness with which he regulated his own passions, and his own conduct : because, if a man ever existed, who, in the zeal and labour with which he served the cause of religion, in the ardour or the efficacy of his preaching, in his sufferings or his success, might hope for some excuse to indulgence, some licence for gratifications which were forbidden to others, it was the author of the text which has been now read to you. Yet the Apostle appears
to have known, and by his knowledge teaches us, that no exertion of industry, no display of talents, no public merit, however great, or however good or sacred be the cause in which it is acquired, will compensate for the neglect of personal self-government.
This, in my opinion, is an important lesson to all : to none, certainly, can it be more applicable, than it is in every age to the teachers of religion ; for a little observation of the world must have informed us, that the human mind is prone, almost beyond resistance, to sink the weakness or the irregularities of private character in the view of public services; that this propensity is the strongest in a man's own case; that it prevails more powerfully in religion than in other subjects, inasmuch as the teachers of religion consider themselves (and rightly do so) as ministering to the higher interests of human existence.
Still farther, if there be causes, as I believe there are, which raise extraordinary difficulties in the way of those who are engaged in the offices of religion; circumstances even of disadvantage in the profession and character, as far as relates to the conservation of their own virtue ; it behoves them to adopt the Apostle's caution with more than common care, because it is only to prepare themselves for dangers to which they are more than commonly exposed.
Nor is there good reason for concealing, either from ourselves or others, any unfavourable dispositions which the nature of our employment or situation may tend to generate : for, be they what they will, they only prove, that it happens to us according to the condition of human life with may nefits to receive some inconveniences with many
experience some trials: that, with
o virtue, means
of improvement in it, some obstacles are presented to our progress which it may require a distinct and positive effort of the mind to surmount.
I apprehend that I am stating a cause of no inconsiderable importance, when amongst these impediments I mention, in the first place, the insensibility to religious impression, which a constant conversation with religious subjects, and, still more, a constant intermixture with religious offices, is wont to induce. Such is the frame of the human constitution (and calculated also for the wisest purposes), that whilst all active habits are facilitated and strengthened by repetition, impressions under which we are passive are weakened and diminished. Upon the first of these properties depends, in a great measure, the exercise of the arts of life: upon the second, the capacity which the mind possesses of adapting itself to almost every situation. This quality is perceived in numerous, and for the most part, beneficial examples. Scenes of terror, spectacles of pain, objects of loathing and disgust, so far lose their effect with their novelty, as to permit professions to be carried on, and conditions of life to be endured, which otherwise, although necessary, would be insupportable. It is a quality, however, which acts, as other parts of our frame do, by an operation which is general : hence it acts also in instances in which its influence is to be corrected; and, amongst these, in religion. Every at
; tentive Christian will have observed how much more powerfully he is affected by any form of worship which is uncommon than with the familiar returns of his own religious offices. He will be sensible of the difference, when he approaches, a few times in the year, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; if he should be present at the visitation sick; or even, if that were unusual
to him, at the sight of a family assembled in prayer. He will perceive it also upon entering the doors. of a dissenting congregation : a circumstance which has misled many, by causing them to ascribe to some advantage in the conduct of public worship what, in truth, is only the effect of new impressions. Now, by how much a lay frequenter of religious worship finds himself less warmed and stimulated by ordinary than by extraordinary acts of devotion, by so much, it may be expected, that a clergyman, habitually conversant with the offices of religion, will be less moved and stimulated than he is. What then is to be done? It is by an effort of reflection, by a positive exertion of the mind, by knowing this tendency, and by setting ourselves expressly to resist it, that we are to repair the decays of spontaneous piety. We are no more to surrender ourselves to the mechanism of our frame than to the impulse of our passions. We are to assist our sensitive by our rational nature. We are to supply this infirmity (for so it may be called, although, like many other properties which bear the name of vices in our constitution, it be, in truth, a beneficial principle acting according to a general law)—we are to supply it by a deeper sense of the obligations under which we lie; by a more frequent and a more distinct recollection of the reasons upon which that obligation is founded. We are not to wonder at the pains which this may cost us; still less are we to imitate the despondency of some serious Christians, who, in the impaired sensibility that habit hath induced, bewail the coldness of a deserted soul.
Hitherto our observation will not be questioned : but I think that this principle goes farther than is generally known nowledged. I think that it
extends to the influence which argument itself possesses upon our understanding; or, at least, to the influence which it possesses in determining our will. I will not say, that, in a subject strictly intellectual, and in science properly so called, a demonstration is the less convincing for being old: but I am not sure that this is not, in some measure, true of moral evidence, and probable proofs. In practical subjects, however, where two things are to be done, the understanding to be convinced, and the will to be persuaded, I believe that the force of every argument is diminished by triteness and familiarity. The intrinsic value of the argument must be the same: the impression may be very different.
: But we have a disadvantage to contend with additional to this. The consequence of repetition will be felt more sensibly by us, who are in the habit of directing our arguments to others : for it always requires a second, a separate, and an unusual effort of the mind, to bring back the conclusion upon ourselves. In constructing, in expressing, in delivering our arguments ; in all the thoughts and study which we employ upon them ; what we are apt to hold continually in our view is the effect which they may produce upon those who hear or read them. The further and best use of our meditations, their influence upon our own hearts and consciences, is lost in the presence of the other. In philosophy itself, it is not always the same thing, to study a subject, in order to understand, and in order only to teach it. In morals and religion, the powers of persuasion are cultivated by those whose employment is public instruction ; but their wishes are fulfilled, and their care exhausted, in promoting the success of their endeavours upon others. The secret duty of turning truly and in earnest, their attention upon themselves