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FEW men are exempt from a passion to appear the first in their own departments in life. Many are not satisfied with the good opinion of men in their own departments only. They wish that all men, of every grade, may entertain a high sense of their excellence.
If we survey any branch of the sciences, any departments of literature, or any of the active professions of life, we shall find many a one who imagines that he knows a vast deal more than he really does know, and who would be very reluctant not to appear to others to be more accomplished than his highest self conceit will allow him to believe that he is.
How often have persons been heard to expatiate on the beauty and elegance of botanical studies, the wonderful properties of chemical substances, the incomprehensible principles of gravity, the sublimities of astronomy, and indeed on almost every subject, a knowledge of which commands esteem, when all their knowledge of those things has been derived from listening to the incidental conversations of others. How often are the merits of an author discussed by those who have never read, and perhaps never seen the work, which they take the liberty to commend or to censure.
This pedantic spirit, although reprobated by the whole world, and despised even by those who cherish it, is yet permitted to enter the place which, more than any other, should be carefully guarded against the intrusion of puerile and unholy feelings ; I mean the pulpit
. As no man on earth can plead an entire exemption from what is something less than perfect wisdom, and perfect dignity, so the preacher, in common with other men, is liable to be ambitious of gaining a reputation for deep and varied knowledge.
The present state of sacred learning and the just tribute of respect which is almost universally paid to those who have contributed towards producing this state, increase the motives to an ostentatious show of critical learning. In an age when a vigorous spirit Dec. 1829.
of enterprise and of improvement is producing uncommon activity in the general mass of society, who is not ashamed of listlessness? Who is willing to be classed among those that are pronounced to be but half awake? Who does not find a gratification in being regarded as a leader in the inarch of improvement ?
We live at a period in which sound biblical criticism is deemed of very great importance. Such criticism is serviceable in respect to a thousand uncontroverted topics which are presented in the Scriptures; and in respect to the great questions of religious controversy, which call forth the highest efforts of genius, its value is unspeakable. It is easy, therefore, for teachers of religion, to assume the appearance of great attainments in professional learning, in order to be thought inbued with the spirit of the times, as well as from an honest zeal to contribute something towards establishing the creeds of their different orders.
The possession of great substantial learning, combined with sound common sense, will effectually secure a man against the charge of a vain display. Needlessly assuming the appearance of an estimable quality, justly exposes to the suspicion of being deficient in that quality. It is the coward that boasts aloud of his courage, the bigot of his candor, and the tyro in learning of his extensive treasures.
A man in whom this spirit reigns would seem to regard as the brightest parts of his productions, those niceties which are of inferior practical utility. Hence, no occasion is suffered to pass, when he can give an impression of his deep researches and his accurate discrimination. If he hears a sermon, he finds fault with the exposition. The preacher has failed to give the exact meaning of the original. He has advanced something which is foreign from it, or has not introduced something which belongs to it. He is destitute of unity. He has misapplied his proof texts.
He has made use of inelegant and inappropriate language. His pronunciation does not accord with the most approved manner.
If a man of this carping disposition is himself occupying the pulpit, he gives the opinions of several distinguished commentators on his text, raises objections to them, informs us what the original says, cites the corresponding text from the ancient versions, offers conjectures of his own, and at length, with much gravity and with decent reverence for the mysterious things of the Bible, tells us his subject is far beyond the comprehension of man's present limited powers.
All this is done without regard to time or place, before a popular assembly no less than before an association of ininisters; in an ordinary sermon, as well as in a dissertation intended for the members of a Theological Society; as much when plain common sense can be in no danger of mistake, as when the topic is involved in obscurities.
What now are the ends which a man proposes in this way to attain? Can he hope to gain the good opinion of men of profound and dignified erudition? They look with mingled emotions of pity and contempt upon all affectation, and especially in him who ministers at the altar. Does he expect to pass with the multitude for a superior genius? The people generally are not destitute of a sense of propriety. They know that true merit is retiring, that common sense is seldom united with excessive vanity, and they have been told that solid learning renders its possessor modest. It is not difficult therefore for them to detect, in most cases, the unworthy spirit which we are combating. When, too, they consider
, the object had in view, and the disregard manifested towards them and towards the momentous interests which ought to engross the pulpit, how can they help in their souls loathing this unhallowed affectation ? What! shall a preacher of the gospel endeavor to impress on his hearers a conviction that he is marvellously learned ? Dares he incur their just displeasure by attempting to amuse them with learned trifles, when they have a right to expect the exhibition of sober and all-important truth ? How can he forget that they will pity him for his partial view of the supreme dignity of the gospel, , and of the everlasting consequences which are connected with the promulgation of it?
But should a minister establish among his people a reputation for superior attainments in critical learning, what would he gain ? Be it granted that he deserves such a reputation, still he must know that practical truth, not criticism, is what is particularly expected from the pulpit. And what gratification can it afford him to reflect that through vanity he has failed in discharging the solemn and appropriate duties of his calling ?
The indulgence of this spirit is productive of no inconsiderable mischiefs. _It has an unhappy influence upon the interests of the hearers. Those whom disgust does not drive from the house of God, may sit perhaps with admiration, perhaps with scorn; certainly, if they be pious and benevolent, with heartfelt regret, that an ambassador of Christ should thus pervert the sacred hours of the Sabbath.
In some perhaps will be fostered a propensity to what is curious and speculative, rather than to what is true and serions. In others, and probably the more numerous part, will be manifested a fearful indifference towards vital religion. Thus, the most important station which a mortal can occupy is rendered powerless, the Bible comes to be regarded as quite imperfect or of little consequence, and the slumber of impenitent sinners is deepened into the sleep of everlasting death. What public servant of Christ will not treinble at the thought of being held responsible for such results ? Surely, they who preach themselves rather than the Lord Jesus forget that they, with their hearers, whose applause, not whose salvation, they have sought, must stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
The indulgence of this spirit is prejudicial to the cause of sacred literature. Every pulpit pedant brings up against this species of learning an evil report. The impression is too general and too strong, that the functions of the sacred office, to be executed with propriety and effect, do not require so much preparatory discipline as candidates for the ministry feel to be of high importance. From the principles of human nature and from facts it is known, that
this impression is strengthened by those who assume an appearance of critical learning which they want the merit to sustain. And why should hurtful prejudices against a good cause be rendered more inveterate by the idle conceits of affectation ?
The conduct on which we have been animadverting, is by no means chargeable to genuine learning. Much learning never converted a sound intellect into a vain imagination, nor made a fool of a man of common sense. The evil results from shallow minds being tinctured with knowledge, from the possession of a tolerable memory and a weak understanding by one who has laid his hands on the edges of a long shelf of books.
If then we would secure ourselves and the coming generations against superficial and self conceited occupants of the pulpit, let none be encouraged to seek the holy employment, but persons in whom ardent piety is united to genuine modesty and good sense. Let such be taught of God and taught of men, no m er how critically or how extensively; and pure religion and pure taste will be nourished by their ministrations; and even truths divine will come mended from their lips.
PREJUDICE AND INFIDELITY OVERCOME.
A RESPECTABLE gentleman, Mr R. now a member of a church in Georgia, son of an officer in a Presbyterian church, was much distressed, some twenty years ago, on the subject of baptism. Several treatises on this subject had been put into his hands by Pedobaptists. These contained the words in regard to this ordinance, in Greek and Latin. He transcribed several of them, and begged a classical scholar, an attorney, who was a graduate of Yale College, to give him the real meaning in English. He complied with his request, and in a few days handed them to him translated, -observing thàt the true translation of Berliga, (baptizo) was "to plunge, to dip, to overwhelm." Mr R. then requested him to translate some other words which he had taken from the treatises referred to, at which his friend smiled and observed, “You seem much distressed on this subject." He answered that he was; and that, having been educated a Pedobaptist, his mind had lately been called up to the subject by hearing one of his own ministers preach on it, who had not produced one single text of Scripture for infant sprinkling ; and he had always supposed there were hundreds to this point. “Come to my house such a night,” said his friend, " and I will explain the whole of these words to you, so far as I am able." Mr R. went accordingly; and having taken the Greek Testament and Lexicon, the attorney showed him the words on this much controverted subject, with their meaning and derivation, so far as his inquirer was qualified to understand. After this, he told him that if the word Burliga had been translated, instead of being only transferred, there never could have arisen any difficulty on this
subject; but the translators retained the original word,changing merely the Greek letters for English. If the word had been translated, where we read in our Bibles, they were all “ baptized in the river Jordan,” it would have been “immersed or plunged in Jordan.”
Having satisfied the inquiries of Mr R. he laid aside his books; and, taking up Voltaire, (for the attorney was then a disciple of the infidel school,) observed that he could show him a better system than the Bible, and read several pages. But this was no consolation to a sincere inquirer after truth, and he soon joined a Baptist church.
Five or six years now passed away. The Christian, with peace of conscience, went on “in the even tenor of his way ;" while the deist entertained his sentiments of hostility against the Saviour. It pleased God, however, to bring him upon a bed of sickness, and near to the grave. Here he relinquished his hold on infidelity, and would have disgorged the poison he had imbibed from books which have destroyed thousands. His convictions were of the most pungent character ; and it seemed long before he was willing to bow to that blessed Redeemer, concerning whom he had been led to entertain erroneous and horrible notions. A particular friend, who has since gone up to glory, was sitting by his bed when the claims of religion came with such convincing power, that he submitted to the Saviour, and found in believing, that he has power on earth to forgive sin. The patient was leaning on his hand, engaged most intently in inquiries on the subject of pardon, when his Christian friend discovered all at once a change in his countenance, a lustre beaming from it, as if glory was in his soul, and he, springing up from his bed, expressed his faith in a crucified Saviour, and his joy in believing
6 The worst of all diseases
Is light compared with sin :" And many have gone down to the brink of the grave, diseased as was supposed in body, but only in soul, before they would acknowledge their disorder. God finds it necessary not only to make them graze like oxen, but to cut almost the threads of life in some sinners, before they will acknowledge that he rules over the earth.
After his recovery, he felt, as every true Christian will feel, the obligation he was under to let bis light shine, and attach himself to some church. During his collegiate career, under the tuition and preaching of the late celebrated Dr Dwight, he had contracted a partiality for the forms of worship in the Presbyterian church, though he had supposed all Christians were deluded; and it was natural for his mind when the scales had left his eyes, to cherish the predilections of his youth. He therefore determined to associate with that denomination. On Saturday he crosses the river Oconee, for this purpose, on his way towards the court house, when, for the first time, the instructions of a philological character, which he had imparted to Mr R. six years before, now rushed upon his mind. He paused, and asked himself whether it were right to attach himself to a church, which, though it contains many pious