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The great professions of life, however, cannot so easily change their names; and these, therefore, will furnish the best illustration of what I was saying. Thus, in the profession of the law; because in former days and worse periods of society, and when the law itself was a more complicated, vague, and indefinite subject, than it now is,-because, I say, in these circumstances, lawyers were unusually addicted, as they were much exposed to the lise of art and intrigue, and to take undue advantage of what they called the glorious uncertainty of the law,'—it has therefore gone into a maxim with the mass of mankind, and is indeed one of the most fixed and inveterate of the popular impressions, that a lawyer will be, and, almost necessarily by his very profession, will be artful and cunning. So say sundry clever stanzas of poetry ; so say the legends of olden time ; and so the people will have it to be. Take away the name of lawyer, which starts up this associated impression, this ghost of a former reality, and the whole difficulty would be removed. A plain understanding of the case as it now exists, unbiassed too by the irritations of defeat in lawsuits, for which lawyers are not responsible, since a worse thing than litigation would be without it, even disorder and injustice without relief ;-a plain and fair understanding of the case as it is, I say, would awaken a new set of ideas in those portions of the community where the old ideas remain. –Thus again, physicians are peculiarly liable to the suspicion of quackery, because in former and less enlightened times, they were, that is, many of the profession were, guilty of quackery. And in the same manner, the charge of indolence, in the apprehension of many, still lies against the clergy. And the time has been, when it was a just charge. But in this respect, I shall undertake to show, that the times have greatly altered.
It may be thought by those of your readers, who do not themselves entertain this opinion, that at the present day, it exerts little or no influence on the community around them. But while I am obliged to hold a different judgment on this point, I think also, there are other and equally decisive proofs of a prevailing misapprehension of clerical labours. It certainly is not uncommon to hear complaints of clergymen, as doing less than is expected of them. It is said, that they repeat their sermons too often; or that they do not preach enough in their own pulpits ;-that they make too frequent exchanges; or that they do not visit their parishes sufficiently, &c. Not a few clergymen have I known, whose health was actually sinking under the labours of their profession, and yet whose reputation was suffering severely from these complaints. From what complaints ? Why, truly, that they were not doing enough, though they were already doing beyond their ability!
I do not ascribe these complaints to an unfriendly disposition in those who make them. On the contrary, they often proceed from a real solicitude for the reputation of the ministry; from an affection for those who discharge this office, and a wish that they may stand high in the confidence of their parishioners and the respect of the world. Indeed, I am tempted to say, and it is my conviction certainly with regard to a portion of our societies, that the clergy, if you will allow the expression, are made too much of. From the most enlightened of our communities, indeed, the days of priestly domination have passed away. But there is,-not to say a kind of factitious importance given to them,—there is a party feeling about their respectability, of which they have some cause to complain. There is a sectarian solicitude, and a rivalship of churches, about the amount of their labours,—-about their reputation for preaching, and for diligence in the parochial care. They are goaded on, perhaps to do all; nay, more than all that in them lies, by comparisons ;- nor only by comparisons,—which it is to be hoped for the credit of all concerned, they do not often hear, but by the exigency of their situation. The country is broken up into sects; and many depend for their very subsistence on extraordinary exertion. I am not insensible, that in all this there are certain advantages, that perfect security and independence are not very safe for any class of men to enjoy ; but still it will be allowed, I think, that the divisions of these times, and the rivalships that grow out of them, are circumstances very trying to those who are engaged in the ministry.
It is not, then, as I have said, from any want of interest or friendship for clergymen, that undue, and as I think, unreasonable demands are made upon them, and that when these fail to be satisfied, complaints are made. But it is that the improved character of society and of religious sentiment, and the consequent change that has taken place in clerical labours, are not sufficiently considered. It is this primarily. And then it is, that intellectual toil, and the lassitude often consequent
upon it, and, in general, that the infirmities of studious and sedentary persons, cannot be justly appreciated by the body of the community.
Let me then endeavour to illustrate somewhat this increased demand upon clerical labour, wbich has grown out of the improved state of society and of religious sentiment.
Preaching among us has, within the progress of twenty or thirty years, assumed a new character. It was formerly, in this country, almost to the exclusion of all other objects, the preaching of systems of divinity. If you were to look over a body of some thousands of sermons, written fisty years ago, you would be surprised to find how very few of them were of a practical character. I mean now to speak, not without exceptions; but of the average of sermons of that period. Nor would I be guilty of injustice to past times, by any general and unqualified assertions. The Theology of New England in particular, has, undoubtedly, during the last century, made a progress beyond the rest of the country, if not beyond the rest of the world. I mean, that the Calvinistic, the Orthodox Theology, (so called,) has improved. It has made large strides from the old systems; and mind has undoubtedly been developed in the preaching of it. There has been abundance of metaphysical disquisition, and this has called forth more intellectual exertion, than would be required in the mere retailing of the articles of a creed, or the definitions of a system. The preaching of systems, then the setting forth of a mere dogmatic Theology, has undergone some modification. But still, though modified, it has, to a great extent, been a preaching of systems, and it has been dogmatical. I appeal, with confidence, to those who can remember the prevailing character of preaching thirty or forty years ago,--and I apprehend, the observation need not be withheld from much of the preaching of the present day,—that it was, and is still, to a very great extent, the preaching of systematic Theology, the statement and defence of what are called the true doctrines; so much so, that by many leading divines of the present day, these doctrines of a merely speculative Theology, are maintained to be the grand instruments of the great religious excitements of the day. Pains is taken in every wearisome repetition of these accounts, to state, with the greatest explicitness and with renewed triumph, that the revival was owing to the more clear and naked exposition of these glorious doctrines; so that the doctrines, of course, acquire additional recommendation from this source. The true explanation of this boasted doctrinal influence, I may remark in passing, is, that the clearer exposition of the monstrous dogmas of the popular Theology, makes those who hear them, indignant and angry, as it ought to do, and then they are easily frightened into the notion, that this hostility is a sign of some horrible depravily ; since it is opposed, they are erroneously told, to the Gospel ;—whereupon they are convinced, as they imagine, of sin ; and after some paroxysms of terror and distress, their feelings subside into a calm, which they unwittingly take for a true conversion. I say not, by any means, that this account answers to every case of popular conversion ; but it explains, I fear, too many of what may be called doctrinal conversions.
But to return ;—what, then, is the change that has taken place in preaching, among those with whom the old systems of doctrines have fallen, or are falling into less estimation ? I answer, that preaching has become, and is becoming more practical. It has taken up the untried and difficult task of applying religion as a vital and active principle to the whole sphere and scene of life,—to every thing that a man does,to every thing that a man thinks and feels, and purposes,—to every duty and temptation, to every danger and exigency of the daily pursuits and cares of men. It proposes the great work of improving human nature; of disenthralling it from the bonds of superstition ; of freeing it from the incumbrances of religious prejudice; of developing the causes of its unhappiness; of opening to it, not the scanty springs of sectarian Theology, but the satisfying fountains of sacred contemplation, of religious peace, of immortal life and happiness. When religious discourses were chiefly valued as expositions of some part of a system of doctrines, little more was necessary, than to resort to a convenient Body of Divinity, as it was called, and the whole matter, statement, argument, scriptural quotation, &c. was found already prepared for use. Writing sermons was scarcely more than a business of compiling. It consisted, chiesly, in repeating what others had written, and what, moreover, every body was ready to admit without question or hesitation. But now, in the great work-for herein will I magnify mine oflice-in the great work of addressing religion to
human nature, and of applying it to human life, to the state of society, and the ever varying pursuits of men,-every power of the mind is put in requisition,-observation and reflection, a careful discrimination of duty, and a wise selection of topics to enforce it, invention and imagination, and all the deep and earnest feelings of the heart. The matter that we have to tell the people, is no longer found in the books They are to be read indeed ; but they will no longer furnish materials for sermons. At least, they will not to him, whose mind is fixed upon the great and appropriate business of preaching at this day. Life, the active, stirring, bustling scene around us, is our study. A great moral portraiture of human conduct and passions, is to be held up before us;—a great appeal is to be made to human nature, to its conscience, to its need, to its hope ;a new and nearer communing with the soul there is to be; and he who will do any thing of this, will find, that he is put to the exertion and stretch of all his faculties. As society also grows more intelligent and refined, it is more fastidious and difficult to be satisfied. The quickened and earnest spirit of the age, too, has its appropriate desires and necessities; and God forbid that an earnest ministry should be wanting to gratify them!
To these considerations, let me add, that the writing of sermons is a peculiarly difficult species of composition. There is to be some truth, or truths set forth, explained, supported by arguments or defended against objections, illustrated and enforced ;-there is an influence to be exerted-at least this is the aim of preaching--on the judgment, on the feelings, or the purposes; and all this is to be done in a discourse, which ordinarily is not to exceed thirty minutes in length. It is not, as in writing a book, where the composer may go on quietly and in some sort indifferently, persuaded that the natural occasions will offer for arousing bimself; but there is to be an earnest, or at least, an interesting address to men in the given compass; or the discourse is good for nothing. It may be easily inferred, then, that the writing of sermons is a labour, peculiarly fitted to exhaust the mind, and prey upon the health. At least, it is certain that society will not now be satisfied with any thing short of productions of this nature.
Meanwhile, the call for parochial labour, instead of diminishing as the other demand has increased, has in fact, kept pace with it. Both departments of clerical duty have been