The Preacher and His Models - The Yale Lectures on Preaching 1891
by James Stalker
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

* * * * *

- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -

* * * * *







Quis facit ut quid oportet et quemadmodum oportet dicatur nisi in Cujus manu sunt nos et nostri sermones? ST. AUGUSTINE, De Doctrina Christiana, iv. 15



TO THE Rev. Alexander Whyte, D.D.




At the close of your instructive and stimulating lectures in the Lyman Beecher Course before the members of this Theological School, we desire to express to you the satisfaction with which they have been listened to, and we are glad to know that, by their publication in the United States and Great Britain, the pleasure and profit which we have all derived from their delivery will be enjoyed by a wider circle.


GEORGE E. DAY, Professor of Hebrew.

SAMUEL HARRIS, Professor of Systematic Theology.

GEORGE P. FISHER, Professor of Ecclesiastical History.

LEWIS O. BRASTOW, Professor of Practical Theology.

GEORGE B. STEVENS, Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation.

FRANK C. PORTER, Instructor in Biblical Theology.


These nine Lectures on Preaching were delivered, on the Lyman Beecher Foundation, to the divinity students of Yale University in the spring of this year. With the kind concurrence of the Senate of Yale, five of them were redelivered, on the Merrick Foundation, to the students of Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio.

In the Appendix an Ordination Address is reproduced, which I wrote when I had been only four or five years in the ministry, and which I have been requested to reprint. My friend, the Rev. Dr. Walker, who was present when it was delivered, having published it in The Family Treasury, another friend, noticing it there, had it printed as a pamphlet at his own expense and distributed to all the ministers of the Church to which he and I belong. It was a very characteristic act; and I have ventured, as a memorial of it, to dedicate this volume to him. I do so, however, not for this reason only, but also because there has been no one in this generation who has done more than he has done, by the example of his own impressive ministry and by his generous encouragement of younger ministers, to promote the interests of preaching in his native land.

My thanks are due to the Rev. Charles Shaw, who on this as on former occasions has kindly assisted me in correcting the press.

GLASGOW, October 1st, 1891.

























Gentlemen, it would be impossible to begin this course of lectures without expressing my acknowledgments to the Theological Faculty of this University for the great honour they have done me by inviting me to occupy this position. When I look over the list of my predecessors and observe that it includes such names as Bishop Simpson, Henry Ward Beecher, Dr. John Hall, Dr. W.M. Taylor, Dr. Phillips Brooks, Dr. A.J.F. Behrends, and Dr. Dale—to mention only those with which it opens—I cannot help feeling that it is perhaps a greater honour than I was entitled to accept; and I cannot but wish that the preaching of the old country were to be represented on this occasion by some one of the many ministers who would have been abler than I to do it justice. It is with no sense of having attained that I am to speak to you; for I always seem to myself to be only beginning to learn my trade; and the furthest I ever get in the way of confidence is to believe that I shall preach well next time. However, there may be some advantages in hearing one who is not too far away from the difficulties with which you will soon be contending yourselves; and the keenness with which I have felt these difficulties may have made me reflect, more than others to whom the path of excellence has been easier, on the means of overcoming them.

I warmly reciprocate the sentiments which have led the Faculty to come across the Atlantic the second time for a lecturer, and the liberality of mind with which they are wont to overstep the boundaries of their own denomination and select their lecturers from all the evangelical Churches. It is the first time I have set foot on your continent, but I have long entertained a warm admiration for the American people and a firm faith in their destiny; and I welcome an opportunity which may serve, in any degree, to demonstrate the unity which underlies the variety of our evangelical communions, and to show how great are the things in which we agree in comparison with those on which we differ.

* * * * *

The aim of this lectureship, if I have apprehended it aright, is that men who are out on the sea of practical life, feeling the force and strain of the winds and currents of the time, and who therefore occupy, to some extent, a different point of view from either students or professors, should come and tell you, who are still standing on the terra firma of college life, but will soon also have to launch forth on the same element, how it feels out there on the deep.

Well, there is a considerable difference.

The professorial theory of college life is, that the faculties are being exercised and the resources collected with which the battles of life are subsequently to be fought and its victories won. And there is, no doubt, a great deal of truth in this theory. The acquisitions of the class-room will all be found useful in future, and your only regret will be that they have not been more extensive and thorough. The gymnastic of study is suppling faculties which will be indispensable hereafter. Yet there is room amidst your studies, and without the slightest disparagement to them, for a message more directly from life, to hint to you, that more may be needed in the career to which you are looking forward than a college can give, and that the powers on which success in practical life depends may be somewhat different from those which avail most at your present stage.

There are two very marked types of intellect to be observed amongst men, which we may call the receptive and the creative. Receptive intellect has the power of taking fully in what is addressed to it by others. It separates its acquisitions and distributes them among the pigeon-holes of the memory. Out of these again it can reproduce them, as occasion requires, and even make what may be called permutations and combinations among its materials with skill and facility. The creative intellect, on the contrary, is sometimes anything but apt to receive that which people attempt to put into it. Instead of being an open, roomy vessel for holding things, it may be awkwardly shaped, and sometimes difficult to open at all. Nor do things pour out of it in a stream, as water does from a pitcher; they rather flash out of it, like sparks from the anvil. Instead of possessing its own knowledge, it is possessed by it; it burns as it emits it, and its fire is contagious.

The former is the serviceable intellect at college, but it is the latter which makes the preacher. There may, indeed, here and there, be miraculous professors who attach more importance, and give higher marks, to the indications of the creative intellect than to the achievements of the receptive intellect. But few can resist the appeal made by the clear, correct and copious reproduction of what they have themselves supplied. Indeed, they would not, as a rule, be justified in doing so; for the first indications of originality are often crude and irritating, and they may come to nothing. The creative intellect is frequently slow in maturing; it is like those seeds which take more than one season to blossom. But at a flower show it would not be fair to withhold the prize from the flower which has blossomed already, and reserve it for one which may possibly do so next year.

Of my fellow-students in the class to which I belonged at college, the two who have since been most successful did not then seem destined for first places. They were known to be able men, but they were not excessively laborious, and they kept themselves irritatingly detached from the interests of the college. But the one has since unfolded a remarkable originality, which was, no doubt, even then organizing itself in the inner depths; and the other, as soon as he entered the pulpit, turned out to have the power of casting a spell over the minds of men. Both had a spark of nature's fire; and this is the possession which outshines all others when college is over and practical life begun.[1]

But, if the viewpoint of practical life is different even from the professorial, it is still more different from that of students; and this may again justify the bringing of a message from the outside world. The difference might be put in many ways; but perhaps it may be best expressed by saying that, while you are among the critics, we are among the criticized.

In the history of nearly all minds of the better sort there is an epoch of criticism. The young soul, as it begins to observe, discovers that things around it are not all as they ought to be, and that the world is not so perfect a place as might naturally be expected or as it may have been represented to be. The critical faculty awakes and, having once tasted blood, rushes forth to judge all men and things with cruel ability. This is the stage at which we agree with Carlyle in thinking mankind to be mostly fools and pronounce every man over five-and-forty who does not happen to agree with our opinions an old fogey. It is the time when we are confident that we could, if we chose, single-handed and with ease, accomplish tasks which generations of men have struggled with in vain. Only in the meantime we, for our part, are not disposed to commit ourselves to any creed or to champion any cause, because we are engaged in contemplating all.

This period occurs, I say, in the history of all men of the abler sort; but in students, on account of their peculiar opportunities, the symptoms are generally exceptionally pronounced. Students are the chartered libertines of criticism. What a life professors would lead, if they only knew what is said about them every day of their lives! I often think that three-fourths of every faculty in the country would disappear some morning by a simultaneous act of self-effacement. Of course ministers do not escape; ecclesiastics and Church courts are quite beyond redemption; and principalities and powers in general are in the same condemnation.

Such is the delightful prerogative of the position in which you now stand. But, gentlemen, the moment you leave these college gates behind, you have to pass from your place among the critics and take your place among the criticized. That is, you will have to quit the well-cushioned benches, where the spectators sit enjoying the spectacle, and take your place among the gladiators in the arena. The binoculars of the community will be turned upon you, and five hundred or a thousand people will be entitled to say twice or thrice every week what they think of your performances. You will have to put your shoulder under the huge mass of your Church's policy and try to keep step with some thousands whose shoulders are under it too; and the reproaches cast by the public and the press at the awkwardness of the whole squad and the unsteadiness of the ark will fall on you along with the rest.

Seriously, this is a tremendous difference. Criticism, however brilliant, is a comparatively easy thing. It is easier to criticize the greatest things superbly than to do even small things fairly well. A brief experience of practical life gives one a great respect for some men whom one would not at one time have considered very brilliant, and for work which one would have pronounced very imperfect. There is a famous passage in Lucretius, in which he speaks of the joy of the mariner who has escaped to dry land, when he sees his shipwrecked companions still struggling in the waves. This is too heathenish a sentiment; but I confess I have sometimes experienced a touch of it, when I have beheld one who has distinguished himself by his incisiveness, while still on the terra firma of criticism, suddenly dropped into the bottomless sea of actual life and learning, amidst his first struggles in the waves, not without gulps of salt-water, the difference between intention and performance.

* * * * *

But do not suppose that I am persuading you to give up criticism. On the contrary, this is the natural function of the stage at which you are; and probably those who throw themselves most vigorously into it now may also discharge most successfully the functions of the stages yet to come. The world reaps not a little advantage from criticism. It is a very imperfect world; no generation of its inhabitants does its work as well as it ought to be done, and it is the undoubted right of the next generation to detect its defects; for in this lies the only chance of improvement. There is something awe-inspiring in the first glance cast by the young on the world in which they find themselves. It is so clear and unbiassed; they distinguish so instantaneously between the right and the wrong, the noble and the base; and they blurt out so frankly what they see. As we grow older, we train ourselves unawares not to see straight or, if we see, we hold our peace. The first open look of young eyes on the condition of the world is one of the principal regenerative forces of humanity.

To begin with, therefore, at all events I will rather come to your standpoint than ask you to come to mine. Indeed, although I have for some time been among the criticized, and my sympathies are with the practical workers, my sense of how imperfectly the work is done, and of how inadequate our efforts are to the magnitude of the task, grows stronger instead of weaker. And it is from this point of view that I mean to enter into our subject. I will make use of the facts of my own country, with which I am familiar; but I do not suppose that the state of things among you is substantially different; and you will not have much difficulty in correcting the picture, to make it correspond with your circumstances, whilst I speak.

* * * * *

In the present century there has certainly been an unparalleled multiplication of the instrumentalities for doing the work. The machine of religion, so to speak, has been perfected. The population has been increasing fast; but churches have multiplied at least twice as fast. Even in a great city like Glasgow we have a Protestant church to every two thousand of the population.[2] And, inside the churches, the multiplication of agencies has been even more surprising. Formerly the minister did almost all the work; and it comprehended little more than the two services on Sunday and the visitation of the congregation; the elders helping him to a small extent in financing the congregation and in a few other matters largely secular. But now every congregation is a perfect hive of Christian activity. In a large congregation the workers are counted by hundreds. Every imaginable form of philanthropic and religious appliance is in operation. Buildings for Sabbath Schools and Mission Work are added to the church; and nearly every day of the week has its meeting.

The machine of religion is large and complicated, and it is manned by so many workers that they get in each other's way; but, with all this bustling activity, is the work done? This is the question which gives us pause. Has the amount of practical Christianity increased in proportion to the multiplication of agencies? Are the prospects of religion as much brighter than they used to be as might have been expected after all this expenditure of labour? Is Christianity deepening as well as spreading?

In Glasgow, where the proportion of churches to population is so high, they speak of two hundred thousand non-church-goers, that is, a third of the inhabitants; and, if you go into one of our villages with two or three thousand of a population, you in may find three or four churches, belonging to different denominations; but you will usually find even there a considerable body of non-church-goers. Not long ago I heard a London clergyman state, that, if, any Sunday morning, you went through the congregations belonging to the Church of England in the district of a hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants in which he labours, you would not, in all of them put together, find one man present for every thousand of the population. One of the English bishops recently admitted that in South London his Church is not in possession; and certainly no other denomination is. Thus, with all our appliances, we have failed even to bring the population within the sound of the Gospel.

Inside the churches, what is to be said? Is the proportion large of those who have received the Gospel in such a way that their hearts have manifestly been changed by it and their lives brought under its sway? We should utterly deceive ourselves if we imagined that real Christianity is coextensive with the profession of Christianity. Many who bear the Christian name have neither Christian experience nor Christian character, but in their spirit and pursuits are thoroughly worldly. Even where religion has taken real hold, is the type very often beautiful and impressive? Who can think without shame of the long delay of the Church even to attempt the work of converting the heathen? And even yet the sacrifices made for this object are ludicrously small in proportion either to the magnitude of the problem or the wealth of the Christian community. The annual expenditure of the United Kingdom on drink is said to be a hundred times as great as that on foreign missions.

Religion does not permeate life. The Church is one of the great institutions of the country, and gets its own place. But it is a thing apart from the common life, which goes on beside it. Business, politics, literature, amusements, are only faintly coloured by it. Yet the mission of Christianity is not to occupy a respectable place apart, but to leaven life through and through.

Vice flourishes side by side with religion. We build the school and the church, and then we open beside them the public-house. The Christian community has the power of controlling this traffic; but it allows it to go on with all its unspeakable horrors. Thus its own work is systematically undone, and faster than the victims can be saved new ones are manufactured to occupy their places. Of vices which are still more degrading I need not speak. Their prevalence is too patent everywhere. If there is any law of Christianity which is obvious and inexorable, it is the law of purity. But go where you will in the Christian countries, and you will learn that by large sections of their manhood this law is treated as if it did not exist. The truth is that, in spite of the nations being baptized in the name of Christ, heathenism has still the control of much of their life; and it would hardly be too much to say that the mission of Christianity is still only beginning.

In what direction does hope lie? It seems to me that there can be no more important factor in the solution of the problem than the kind of men who fill the office of the ministry. We must have men of more power, more concentration on the aims of the ministry, more wisdom, but, above all, more willingness to sacrifice their lives to their vocation. We have too tame and conventional a way of thinking about our career. Men are not even ambitious of doing more than settling in a comfortable position and getting through its duties in a respectable way. We need to have men penetrated with the problem as a whole, and labouring with the new developments which the times require. The prizes of the ministry ought to be its posts of greatest difficulty. When a student or young minister proves to have the genuine gift, his natural goal should not be a highly paid place in a West End church, but a position where he would be in the forefront of the battle with sin and misery. Nowhere else are the great lines of Chapman more applicable than in our calling:—

Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea Loves to have his sails filled with a lusty wind, Even till his sailyards tremble, his masts crack, And his rapt ship runs on her side so low That she drinks water and her keel ploughs air.

I am well aware that men of this stamp cannot be made to order. They must, as I have suggested already, have a spark of nature's fire, and, besides that, the Spirit of God must descend on them. Yet I have thought that it might be helpful towards this end to go back to the origins of preaching, and to study those in whom its primitive spirit was embodied. Perhaps that which we are desiderating could not be better expressed than by saying that we need a ministry prophetic and apostolic. And I am going to invite you to study the prophets and apostles as our models.

Though we may not believe in apostolic succession in the churchly sense, we are the successors of the apostles in this sense, that the apostles filled the office which we hold, or hope to hold, and illustrated the manner in which its duties should be discharged in such a way as to be an example and an inspiration to all its subsequent occupants. The air they breathed was still charged with the spirit poured into it by Christ; they were made great by the influence of His teaching and companionship; the power of the Holy Ghost, freshly descended, burned on their hearts; and they went forth on their mission with a force of conviction and a mastery of their task which nothing could resist.

One among them embodied in himself, above all others, the spirit of that epoch of creative energy. St. Paul is perhaps, after our Lord Himself, the most complete embodiment of the ministerial life on all its sides which the world has ever seen. And, fortunately, he embodied this spirit not only in deeds, but also in words. Circumstances made him a writer of letters, the most autobiographical form of literature. His friends, such as Timothy and Titus, drew out of him lengthy expressions of the convictions wrought into his mind by the experiences of a lifetime. His enemies, by their accusations, struck out of him still ampler and more heartfelt statements of his feelings and motives. St. Paul has painted his own portrait at full length, and in every line it is the portrait of a minister. There is more in his writings which touches the very quick of our life as ministers than in all other writings in existence. It is my desire to reproduce this straight from the sources. I have no intention of going over the outward life of St. Paul. This you can find in a hundred books. But I desire to exhibit the very soul of the man, as he himself has revealed it to us in his writings.

If we are the successors of the apostles, the apostles were the successors of the prophets, who did for the Church of the Old Testament what the apostles did for that of the New. In outward aspect and detail, indeed, the life of the prophets differed much from that of the apostles. In force of manhood and in variety and brilliance of genius they far excelled them. But their aim was the same. It was to make the kingdom of God come by announcing and enforcing the mind and will of God. And this is our aim too.

The writings of the prophets are very difficult, and their period is less popularly known than any other period of Scripture history, either before or after it. But it is beginning to attract more attention, and in the near future it will do so much more, because it is beginning to be perceived that in it lies the key to the whole Old Testament history and literature.[3] The writings of Isaiah especially have of late attracted attention. Commentary after commentary on them has appeared;[4] till now the reader can see his way pretty clearly through the tangled but enchanting mazes of his writings. With such helps as have been available to me I have endeavoured through the writings to get at the man; and I will take Isaiah as the representative of the prophetic spirit in the same way as St. Paul is to represent for us the apostles. But here again my aim is neither that of the commentator nor that of the biographer. It is the soul of the man I wish to depict and the spirit of his work.

It may be thought that, by taking up the subject in this way, I am missing the opportunity of dealing with the practical work of to-day. But I do not think so. There are, indeed, some details nearly always discussed in lectures on preaching which I do not care to touch. There is, for instance, the question of the delivery of sermons—whether the preacher should read, or speak memoriter, or preach extempore. This can be discussed endlessly, and the discussion is always interesting; but, if it were discussed every year for a century, it would be as far from being settled as ever. Besides, it is my duty to remember what others have handled exhaustively here before me. Indeed, the Senate mentioned to me that it was desirable that the subject should be taken up from a new point of view. They have been good enough to express their approbation of the way in which I mean to treat it; but it is not in deference to their instructions that I take it up in this way, but in accordance with the bent of my own mind; and I think I see my way to bring to bear on it all the practical experience which I may be in possession of; for I quite recognise that the value of such a course of lectures largely depends on its being, from beginning to end, what in literature is called a Confession, that is, a record of experiences. Although I am to go back to the ages of the apostles and the prophets, I do not intend to stay there. My wish is to bring down from thence fire which will kindle your hearts, as you face the world and the tasks of to-day.

There is another objection, which may have already occurred to some of you, and would doubtless occur to many, as I went along, if I did not anticipate it. It may be felt, that both apostles and prophets were so differently situated from us, especially through the possession of the gift of inspiration, that they can be no example for us to follow. To this I will not reply by seeking in any way to minimise their inspiration. It is, indeed, difficult to say exactly how their inspiration differed from that which is accessible and indispensable to us; for we also are entirely dependent for the power and success of our work on the same Spirit as spoke through them. But, however difficult it may be to define it, I am one of those who believe that there is a difference, and that it is a great difference. The mind and will of God expressed themselves through the prophets and apostles with a directness and authority which we cannot claim. But the difference is not such as to remove them beyond our imitation. Although in some, or even many, respects they may be beyond us, this is no reason why we may not in others imitate them with the greatest advantage. It will be seen at a glance how little there is in this objection, if it be considered that our Lord Himself is the great pattern of the ministry. In some respects He is of course much farther away from us than either prophets or apostles; yet He is near us as a model in every detail of our duty. No mode of treating my subject would have been so congenial to me as to set Him forth in this character. But, having attempted to do so elsewhere, I have chosen the method now announced under the conviction, that the nearest approach to the study of how Christ fulfilled the duties of the ministry is to study how prophets and apostles fulfilled them.

* * * * *

There is one thing more which I should like to say before closing this somewhat miscellaneous introductory lecture. I would not have come to lecture to you on this subject if I were not a firm believer in preaching. If in what has been already said I have seemed to depreciate its results, this is only because my ideal is so high of what the pulpit ought to do, and might do.[5] I do not, indeed, separate preaching from the other parts of a minister's life, such as the conducting of the service of the sanctuary, the visitation of the congregation, and taking part in more general public work. As I go on, it will be seen, that, so far from undervaluing these, I hold them to be all required even to produce a healthy pulpit power. Yet preaching is the central thing in our work. I believe in it, because Christ Himself set His stamp on it. Read His sayings, and you will see that this was what He sent forth the servants of His kingdom to do. "Christ," says St. Paul, "sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel"; not, I think, thereby ignoring baptism, but putting it and all other ceremonies in their proper place of subordination to the preaching of the Word.

It is often charged against the evangelical, and especially the free, Churches at the present day, that they give preaching a position of too great prominence in public worship; and we are counselled to yield the central place to something else. It is put to us, for example, whether our people should not be taught to come to church for the purpose of speaking to God rather than in order to be spoken to by man. This has a pious sound; but there is a fallacy in it. Preaching is not merely the speaking of a man. If it is, then it is certainly not worth coming to church for. Preaching, if it is of the right kind, is the voice of God. This we venture to say while well aware of its imperfections. In the best of preaching there is a large human element beset with infirmity; yet in all genuine preaching there is conveyed a message from Heaven. And, while it is good for people to go to church that they may speak to God, it is still better to go that He may speak to them. Nor, where God is authentically heard speaking to the heart, will the response of the heart in the other elements of worship be lacking. It is the reception of God's message of free grace and redeeming love which inspires the true service of praise and prayer; and without this the service of the Church is soulless ceremonial.[6]

From another side disparagement is frequently cast upon preaching in our day. It is said that the printing-press has superseded the preacher, and must more and more supersede him. Formerly, when people could not read, and literature was written only for scholars, the pulpit was a power, because it was the only purveyor of ideas to the multitude; but now the common man has other resources: he has books, magazines, the newspaper: and he can dispense with the preacher. To this it might be answered, that the sermon is not the only thing which brings people to church. Where two or three are met together, there are influences generated of a spiritual and social kind which answer to deep and permanent wants of human nature. But there is an answer more direct and conclusive. The multiplication of the products of the printing-press and the possession by the multitude of the power of reading them are certainly among the most wonderful facts of modern times, and, I will add without hesitation, among the most gratifying. But what do they mean for the great majority? In the days before the age of the press arrived people only knew the gossip of their own town, and this absorbed their thoughts and conversation. Now they hear every morning the gossip of a thousand cities from China to Peru. The world has become for the modern man immensely larger and more interesting than it was to his predecessors; and facts about it are accumulated on his mind in overwhelming quantity and bewildering variety. But does this make preaching less necessary to him? It surely makes it far more necessary. He has more need than his fathers had of those supersensible principles which give order and meaning to sensible facts. The larger and more wonderful the world becomes, the more urgent becomes the question of the cause which has produced it; and, the more the figures multiply which the spectators have to watch on the theatre of history, the more indispensable becomes the knowledge of the argument of the drama. If the pulpit has an authentic message to deliver about Him whose thought is the ground of all existence, and whose will of love is the explanation of the pain and mystery of life, the more cultivated and eager the mind of man becomes, then the more indispensable will the voice of the pulpit be felt to be; and a real decay of the power of the pulpit can only be due either to preachers themselves, when, losing touch with the mysteries of revelation, they let themselves down to the level of vendors of passing opinion, or to such a shallowing of the general mind as will render it incapable of taking an earnest interest in the profounder problems of existence.



"A set o' dull, conceited hashes Confuse their brains in college classes, They gang in stirks, and come out asses, Plain truth to speak, An' syne they hope to speel Parnassus By dint o' Greek.

"Gi'e me a'e spark o' nature's fire, That's a' the learnin' I desire, Then, though I trudge through dub an' mire, At pleuch or cart, My muse, though homely in attire, May touch the heart."—BURNS.

[2] "In 1880 there was in the United States one Evangelical Church organization to every 516 of the population. In Boston there is 1 church to every 1,600 of the population; in Chicago 1 to 2,081; in New York 1 to 2,468; in St. Louis 1 to 2,800."—Our Country, by Rev. Josiah Strong, D.D.

[3] See Duhm: Die Theologie der Propheten—preface.

[4] Cheyne, Smith, Delitzsch, von Orelli, Dillmann, etc.

[5] "After eleven years of active preaching I have spent five of hardly less active hearing. I have listened carefully to preachers of all degrees and denominations, and some convictions have been burned in upon my mind. Far above all, I have learned to believe in the great importance of preaching—the effect it has on men's lives and thoughts; their need of it; their pain and loss when it does not help and reach them. I used to think that, if it did men good, they would speak more of it. But they pay no compliments to their daily bread; yet it is the staff of their life. If ministers knew the silent appreciation of helpful preaching, they would work, if not harder, at least more brightly and hopefully.... Preachers should remember that the large silent part of their flock is only reached by preaching, and, therefore, they should give their strength to it, and not to little meetings. Suppose an average instance: Sunday morning attendance, 250. The minister does not preach well; but he works hard during the week, and has, Monday, Literary Society, 15; Tuesday, Young Ladies' Bible Class, 12; Wednesday, Prayer Meeting, 30; Thursday, Class for Servants, 8; Friday, Class for Children, 15. All told, these do not represent more than 50, leaving 200 reached only by preaching, and more or less dissatisfied."—Ex sapientis manuscripto penes me.

[6] "New Testament preaching dates from the day of Pentecost. Tongues of fire rested on the assembled Church; and they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The word of God, the testimony of Jesus, the gospel of our salvation, preached in tongues of men of every race, was to be the form of power by which the kingdom of God, in our dispensation, should spread abroad and prevail. But the tongues were tongues of fire. This fire is, first of all, the Holy Spirit, whose quick, pure and living presence it denotes. But then it is intimated that the Holy Spirit was to prove Himself fire in the speech of men. It is intimated that human minds, as they uttered themselves to their fellows, and human speech in that utterance, were to prove capable of taking fire, so as to brighten and burn with the truth and power of God's Spirit. Such was the kind of preaching that was set a-going at Pentecost, and by it the world was to be won. Other forms of influence were not to be excluded, but this was to have the chief place. The word of power, coming burning-hot out of the living mouth of a believing man, is the leading form in which the Spirit's presence is evermore to make head in the Church against the world, and is to carry the Church on in her mission in the world. This gives us the fundamental view of our work as preachers; and nothing more is needed in order to illustrate its dignity and glory."—PRINCIPAL RAINY.



In accordance with the plan announced yesterday, I am to turn your attention in the next four lectures to the prophets of the Old Testament as patterns for modern preachers; and the special subject for to-day is The Preacher as a Man of God.

To earnest minds at the stage at which you stand at present no question could be more interesting than this: How does a right ministry begin? what are the experiences which justify or compel a man to turn his back on all other careers and devote himself to this one? On the minds of some of you this question may be pressing at the present moment with great urgency. It is a question of supreme importance. In most things a good deal depends on beginning well; but nowhere is the commencement more momentous than here.

This is a point on which the greatest emphasis is laid in the history of the prophets. We are told how they became prophets. Their ministry commenced with a spiritual experience usually denominated the Prophetic Call.

Such experiences are narrated of the greatest prophets. The call of Moses was the scene of the Burning Bush, which is detailed at great length in his biography. The next outstanding prophet was Samuel, and there is no better known story in Scripture than the touching account of how the Lord called him to be the reformer of an evil age. Each of the three great literary prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel—has left an account of his own call; that of Ezekiel covering nearly three whole chapters. If the smaller prophets do not, as a rule, commemorate similar experiences of their own, it is not to be inferred that they did not pass through them. The brief compass of their writings is sufficient to account for the omission; although perhaps a subjective element may also enter into the explanation. Among ourselves there are men who are able to confide to the public their own most sacred experiences, and habitually make use of them to illustrate and enforce the truth. To others nothing would be more unnatural: they shrink from the most distant allusion to the most sacred moments of their spiritual history. Yet these may be worth the whole world to themselves. Both modes of procedure have Scriptural warrant: for some of the prophets narrate their calls, and others do not.

If these calls of distinguished men to God's service be noted one by one, they will be found to include many of the grandest scenes of Scripture.[7] There could be no more splendid subject—if I may give the hint in passing—for a course of lectures in the congregation, or even for a course, like the present, to students of divinity.

They exhibit astonishing variety. Moses, for example, was called in the maturity of his powers, but Samuel when he was still a child. Jeremiah's call bears a certain resemblance to that of Moses, because both resisted the Divine will through inability to speak; but in other respects they are totally dissimilar. Ezekiel's stands altogether by itself, and is extremely difficult to unravel; but it is thoroughly characteristic of his sublime and intricate genius. Nowhere else could there be found a more telling illustration of the diversity of operation in which the Spirit of God delights, when He is touching the spirit of man, even if He is aiming at identical results.

For in all cases the effect was the same. The man who was called to be a prophet was separated by this summons from all other occupations which could interfere with the service for which God had designated him. His whole being was taken possession of for the Divine purposes and subjected to the sway of the Divine inspiration. One of the commonest names of a prophet in the Old Testament is "a man of God." Through constant use this term has lost its meaning for us. But it meant exactly what it said: that the prophet was not his own, but God's man; he belonged to God, who could send him wherever He wished and do with him whatever He would. It was the same idea that St. Paul expressed, when he called himself, as he loved to do, "the slave of Jesus Christ."

It has sometimes been attempted to explain these scenes away, as if they were not records of actual experience, but only poetic representations which the prophets prefixed to their writings, to afford their readers a dramatic prefigurement of the general scope of their prophecies, ideas being freely put into them which the prophets did not themselves possess at the commencement of their career, but only acquired by degrees as their life proceeded.[8] They are compared to such efforts of the poet as the Vision of Robert Burns, in which he tells how the muse of Caledonia appeared to him at the plough, and, casting her mantle round him and claiming him as her own, consecrated him the poet of his native land; or the Zueignung of Goethe, in which he feigns a similar experience which befell him on the moonlight heights of the German forest. But, though there is a poetic element in prophecy, the prophetic spirit was too much in earnest for such figments of the imagination, which are alien to the severity of the Hebrew genius. Besides, such scenes are not confined to the Hebrew prophets: they belong to the true religion in all generations.

* * * * *

Any of the prophetic calls would bring suggestively before us the topic with which we are occupied to-day; and it is not without regret that I turn away from the Burning Bush, with its dramatic dialogue between Jehovah and Moses touching many points which are the very same as still perplex those who are standing on the threshold of a ministerial career; from the chamber of the tabernacle, with its startling voice, in which God opened the heart of Samuel to take in the purpose of life; and from the wonderfully instructive scene in which the shrinking spirit of Jeremiah met the Divine summons with the humble cry of deprecation, "Behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child," till the Divine sympathy and wisdom answered his arguments and lifted him above his fears. But we have agreed to take Isaiah as the representative of the prophets; and, in spite of these other attractions, we need not repent of this; for there is nothing in Holy Writ more unique and sublime than the call of Isaiah, and it is pregnant in every line with instruction. It is, indeed, far away from us, and it will require a strong effort to transport ourselves back over so many centuries and enter sympathetically into the experience of one who lived in such a widely different world. But it is a real chapter of human experience. As Isaiah prophesied for fifty or perhaps even sixty years after this, he must at the time have been in the prime of his days. In short, he was at the very stage of life at which you are now, and this is an account of how a young man of three thousand years ago became a public servant of God.

* * * * *

There are two or three points worth noting before we go on to describe the scene itself.

1. It is reported in the sixth chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah. We should naturally have expected it to stand at the beginning of the whole book, as do the corresponding scenes in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and it is not easy to say why it is not found in this position. We are perhaps too ready to think of the prophecies of a prophet as a continuous book, written, in one prolonged effort, on a single theme, as books are written in modern times. But this is a misconception. They came together more like the pieces of a lyric poet. A lyric poet composes his pieces at uncertain intervals of inspiration; they range over a great variety of subjects; and it may only be late in life that he thinks of collecting them in a volume. So the prophecies of the prophet came to him at uncertain and often lengthy intervals; they were sometimes very brief, no longer than short lyrics; and we know that he sometimes did not think of any literary publication of them till long after their oral delivery. A lyric poet, when collecting his pieces, may adopt any one of several different principles of arrangement. The simplest way is to insert them in chronological order; but he may follow some subtle psychological arrangement, as Wordsworth, for instance, did when his collected works were published; or he may throw them together at random, according to the fancy of the moment; and this is perhaps the commonest case. There seems to be the same variety in the prophets. The prophecies of Ezekiel, for example, are arranged on the chronological principle, but those of Isaiah and Jeremiah are not; and it is one of the most difficult tasks of interpretation to assign the different pieces to their original dates. It is doubtful whether there is any rigid principle at all in Isaiah's prophecies. It is even doubtful whether the order in which they stand is due to him or to a disciple or editor, who arranged them after he was dead. We need hardly, therefore, inquire very strictly why any particular chapter occurs in its particular place. But it is somewhat awkward that the sixth chapter stands where it does, in the body of the book, instead of at the head of it; because this hides its significance from the general reader. Scholars are agreed, however, that it is an account of Isaiah's call to be a prophet; and, when this is recognised, every detail of the scene which it records is invested with new meaning.

2. It is worthy of note that the event is precisely dated. The chapter begins with the words, "In the year that King Uzziah died." There are forms of religious experience which are dateless—processes of slow and unmarked growth, which may spread themselves over years; but there are also crises, when experience crystallizes into events so remarkable that they become standing dates in the lives of those who have enjoyed them, from which they reckon, as other people do from birth or marriage or the turning-points of their domestic and commercial history.

Whether this was the first of such events in the history of Isaiah I have often wondered. There is nothing unlikely in the suggestion. In other cases the call to enter into God's work synchronized with the first real encounter with God Himself. Samuel's call to be a prophet coincided with his first personal introduction to acquaintance with Jehovah, whom, it is distinctly stated, he did not previously know; and St. Paul's call to the apostolate happened at the same time as his conversion. As we go on, we shall come upon at least one circumstance which points pretty strongly to the conclusion that this was Isaiah's first conscious transaction with God.

3. The place where the incident occurred is also worthy of note. It was in the temple. Ewald and other able commentators interpret this to mean the heavenly temple, and suppose that the future prophet was transported to some imaginary place which he called by this name. But this is quite a gratuitous suggestion, and it very much weakens the impressiveness of the whole scene, the very point of which lies in the fact that it took place on familiar ground. Isaiah was a Jerusalemite, and the temple was the most familiar of all haunts to him. He had witnessed there a thousand times the external ritual of religion—the worshipping multitudes, the priests, and the paraphernalia of sacrifice. But now, on the same spot, he was to see a sight in whose glory all these things would disappear. This is what the critical moments of religious experience are always meant to do: they obliterate the familiar externals of religion and reveal the reality which is hidden behind them; they convert common spots of every-day experience into the house of God and the gate of heaven.

* * * * *

Such were the circumstances of time and place in which the crisis of Isaiah's history occurred. One day, in the year that King Uzziah died, he wended his way, as he had done hundreds of times before, to the temple; and there that took place which altered the whole course of his life. Whether in the body or out of the body, we cannot tell, he saw three successive visions, or rather a threefold vision—a vision of God, a vision of sin, and a vision of grace.

1. It began with a Vision of God. The chapter opens with these sublime words, "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord." It is an astounding statement to come from a prophet of that religion whose fundamental principle was the spirituality of God, "No man hath seen God at any time"; and, indeed, there is an old rabbinical tradition, that King Manasseh, who is said to have caused Isaiah to be sawn asunder, made the alleged impiety of these words the excuse for his cruelty. But it was a mere excuse; for the difficulty only serves to prove the transcendent spiritual tact and literary skill of the prophet, who manages the scene in such a way as to preserve quite intact the principle of the Divine spirituality. Though he says that he saw God, he gives no description of Him; only the sights and sounds round about Him are so described as in the most vivid way to suggest the Presence which remains unseen. It is as if a historical scene of ruin and conflagration were represented on canvas, without showing the burning materials, by painting the glare of light and the emotions of terror and dismay on the faces of the spectators.

First, the throne on which God sits is described: it is erected in the temple, and it is high and lifted up, for He is a great King. But no description is given of the figure seated on it; only His train—the billowing folds of His robes—filled the temple. Above the throne, or rather round it, like the courtiers surrounding the throne of an Eastern monarch, stand the seraphim. These beings are mentioned only here in Holy Writ. Their name signifies the shining or fiery ones. They are attendants of the Divine King, bright and swift as fire in their intelligence and activity. Each has six wings: with twain he covers his face, and with twain he covers his feet, evidently to protect his eyes and person from the consuming glory of the Divine presence, which is thus indicated again without being described; and with the remaining two he flies, or rather poises himself in his place ready for flight at the Divine signal.

Then, amidst these sublime sights break in sounds equally sublime. By our translation the impression is produced that they come from the seraphim. But the original is more vague, and the meaning probably is, that the responsive voices which are heard come from unseen choirs in opposite quarters of the temple. Unceasingly the strain rises from one side, unceasingly the answer comes from the other; in the centre the voices meet and mingle in loud harmony.

Their burden is, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." That is, they are celebrating the two attributes of the Divine character which always most impressed a Jewish mind—His holiness and His omnipotence. The one is God as He is in Himself, turned inwards, so to speak. He is absolutely holy, unapproachable, a consuming fire scorching away impurity, falsehood, and sin of every kind. The other is God as He is in the world, turned outwards, so to speak; the world's fulness—suns and systems, mountains and oceans, earthquake and storm, summer's abundance and winter's terror—all this is His glory, the garment by which He makes Himself visible.[9]

The voices swell till the temple rocks, or seems to rock to the reeling senses of the prophet, and the house is filled with smoke, or seems to be so, as a mist envelops the swooning spirit of the spectator. But still, through the mist, there peal, falling like the strokes of a hammer on the listening heart, the notes of the dread song, "Holy, holy, holy."

2. Next ensued a Vision of Sin. The vision of God could not but unseal a rushing stream of feeling of some kind in Isaiah. But of what kind would it be? Surely of joyful adoration: the soul, inspired with the sublimity of these sights and thrilled with these sounds, will rise to the majesty of the occasion, and the human voice will strike in with all its force among the angelic voices, crying, "Holy, holy, holy."

So one might have expected. But the human mind is a strange thing; and it is difficult to know where and how to touch its delicate and complex mechanism so as to produce any desired effect. You wish to produce a flow of tender feeling, and you tell a pathetic tale, which ought, you think, to move the heart. But at every sentence the features of the listeners harden into more and more rigidity, or even relax into mocking laughter; whereas the suggestion of a noble thought, which seems to have nothing to do with pathos, may instantaneously melt the soul and unseal the fountain of tears. Or is it the conscience which is to be affected? The clumsy operator begins to assail it straight with denunciations of sin, but, instead of producing penitence, he only rouses the whole man into proud and angry self-defence; whereas a single touch, no heavier than an infant's finger, applied away up somewhere, remote from conscience, in the region of the imagination, may send an electric shock down through the whole being and shake the conscience from centre to circumference.

Isaiah's mind was one of the most sensitive and complicated ever bestowed on a human being; but it was now in the hands of its Maker, who knew how to touch it to fine issues. The Maker's design on this occasion was to produce in it an overpowering sense of sin; and what He did was to confront it with infinite holiness and majesty. These were brought so near that there was no escape. The poor, finite, sinful man was held at arm's length, so to speak, in the grasp of the Infinite and Most Holy; and the result was a total collapse of the human spirit. Isaiah's eye turned away from the sight of God's glory back upon himself, and back on his past life; and, in this light, all appeared foul and hideous. There was sin everywhere—sin in himself and sin in his environment. He was utterly confounded and swallowed up of shame and terror. "Woe is me," he groaned, "for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips."

Why he felt the taint specially on his lips it might not be easy to tell. Perhaps it was because the angelic song was a challenge to join in the praise of God, but he felt that the lips of one like him were not worthy to join in their song. Perhaps—who can tell?—the besetting sin of his previous life may have been profanity of speech, as it was evidently a crying sin of his time. This suggestion gives a shock to the ideas which we associate with Isaiah, and it is hard to think that the lips which afterwards spoke like angels can ever have defiled themselves with such a sin. But this is the most natural meaning of the words, and it is not against the analogy of other lives. Great saints, and even great preachers, are made out of great sinners; and the memory of an odious and conspicuous sin like this may sometimes lend a passionate force to subsequent devotion and keep alive for a lifetime the sense of personal unworthiness.

3. The last scene in the evolution of this vision, which was surely more than a vision, was the Vision of Grace. One of the fiery attendants, who hovered on quivering wing ready to execute the orders of the Divine King, receiving a command by some unexplained mode of communication, flew to the altar, and, taking up the tongs, seized with them a stone from the altar fire. It was neither a coal, as our rendering gives it, nor a brand, but a heated stone, such as was used, and is used at the present day, in the East, for conveying heat to a distance for any purpose for which it might be required. It came from the altar: it contained God's fire, and God sent it.

The purpose for which it was required on this occasion was cleansing. Of cleansing there are in Scripture three symbols. The simplest is water; and water can purify many things; but there are some things which water cannot cleanse. A stronger agent is required, and this is found in fire. You must fling the ore, for example, into the fire, if you wish to extract from it the pure gold. There is a third symbol, which appears in the New Testament as well as the Old, and it is the most sacred of all. It is blood. Water, fire, blood—these three mean the same in Scripture. In this case it was fire.

The seraph flew with the hot stone and laid it on the lips of the future prophet. Why did he lay it there? Because it was there that Isaiah felt his sin to be lying. He had said, "I am a man of unclean lips." The fire burned the sin away. So the seraph said, speaking in God's name, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged." It was the assurance of the Divine forgiveness, which had come swift as a seraph's flight in answer to Isaiah's confession.[10]

Isaiah's preparation was completed in these three successive phases of experience; and now the purpose was disclosed for which he had been prepared. From aloft—from the throne high and lifted up—came the question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" The King needed a messenger to bear a message and represent Himself. He had chosen Isaiah to bear it; yet He did not thrust the commission on him.[11] He did not need to do so; for Isaiah had passed through a preparation which made him not only thoroughly able, but thoroughly willing. He had been lifted out of time into eternity; and in this one hour of concentrated experience he had both died and been born again. His life had been undone and forfeited; but God had given it back to him, and he felt that now it was not his own. He was thrilling with the power of forgiveness, and the impulses towards God—to be near Him, to serve Him, to do anything for Him—were now far stronger than his shrinking from Him had been a little before. Therefore of his own free will and choice he answered the Divine question with, "Here am I, send me."

* * * * *

Gentlemen, I have gone minutely into the details of this scene in the life of a representative preacher of the Old Testament, because every line of it speaks to the deep and subtle movements of our own experience. What is the inference to be drawn from it? Is it that at the commencement of a preacher's career there must be a call to the ministry distinct from the experience of personal salvation? This inference has often been drawn; but I prefer, in the meantime at least, to draw a wider but, I believe, a sounder and more useful inference. It is this: that the outer must be preceded by the inner; public life for God must be preceded by private life with God; unless God has first spoken to a man, it is vain for a man to attempt to speak for God.

This principle has an extensive and varied application.

It applies to the beginnings of the religious life. I should like to be allowed to say to you, gentlemen, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, that the prime qualification of a minister is that he be himself a religious man—that, before he begins to make God known, he should first himself know God. How this comes to pass, this is not the place to explain. Only let me say, that it is more than the play upon us of religious influences from the outside. There must be a reaction on our own part—an opening of our nature to take in and assimilate what is brought to bear on us by others. There must be an uprising of our own will and a deliberate choice of God. Of course in the history of many there are, at this stage, experiences almost as dramatic and memorable as this scene in the life of Isaiah; and they may be composed of nearly identical elements. In some haunt of ordinary life—perhaps in the church of one's childhood or in the room consecrated by the prayers of early years—there comes a sudden revelation of God, which transfigures everything. In this great light the man feels himself to be like an unclean thing, ready to be condemned and annihilated by the presence of the Thrice Holy. But then ensues the wonderful revelation of grace, when God takes up the soul in despair and draws it to His heart, penetrating it with the sense of forgiveness and the confidence of childhood. It is not surprising that this new-born life should feel itself at once dedicated to the service of God. I heard one of our most rising ministers say a short time ago, that he knew he was to be a minister on the very day of his conversion, though at the time he was engaged in a totally different pursuit.

But this may come later; and it may be the burden of another great moment of revelation. For, as I have hinted already in this lecture, the true Christian life is not all a silent, unmarked growth; it has its crises also, when it rises at a bound to new levels, where new prospects unfold themselves before it and alter everything. There are moments in life more precious than days, and there are days which we would not exchange for years. Swept along with other materials into the common receptacle of memory, they shine like gold, silver, precious stones among the wood, hay, stubble of ordinary experience. It is impossible to say how much one such experience may do to direct and to inspire a life. I believe that many a humble minister has such an experience hidden in his memory, which he may never have disclosed to anyone, but which is invested for himself with unfading splendor and authority, and binds him to the service of God till his dying day.[12]

But this principle, which we have drawn for our own use from Isaiah's call, applies not only to the initial act, but to every subsequent detail of our life. It is true of every appearance which a minister makes before a congregation. Unless he has spent the week with God and received Divine communications, it would be better not to enter the pulpit or open his mouth on Sunday at all. There ought to be on the spirit, and even on the face of a minister, as he comes forth before men, a ray of the glory which was seen on the face of Moses when he came down among the people with God's message from the mount.

It applies, too, on a larger scale, to the ministerial life as a whole. Valuable as an initial call may be, it will not do to trade too long on such a memory. A ministry of growing power must be one of growing experience. The soul must be in touch with God and enjoy golden hours of fresh revelation. The truth must come to the minister as the satisfaction of his own needs and the answer to his perplexities; and he must be able to use the language of religion, not as the nearest equivalent he can find for that which he believes others to be passing through, but as the exact equivalent of that which he has passed through himself. There are many rules for praying in public, and a competent minister will not neglect them; but there is one rule worth all the rest put together, and it is this: Be a man of prayer yourself; and then the congregation will feel, as you open your lips to lead their devotions, that you are entering an accustomed presence and speaking to a well-known Friend. There are arts of study by which the contents of the Bible can be made available for the edification of others; but this is the best rule: Study God's Word diligently for your own edification; and then, when it has become more to you than your necessary food and sweeter than honey or the honey-comb, it will be impossible for you to speak of it to others without a glow passing into your words which will betray the delight with which it has inspired yourself.[13]

Perhaps of all causes of ministerial failure the commonest lies here; and of all ministerial qualifications, this, although the simplest, is the most trying. Either we have never had a spiritual experience deep and thorough enough to lay bare to us the mysteries of the soul; or our experience is too old, and we have repeated it so often that it has become stale to ourselves; or we have made reading a substitute for thinking; or we have allowed the number and the pressure of the duties of our office to curtail our prayers and shut us out of our studies; or we have learned the professional tone in which things ought to be said, and we can fall into it without present feeling. Power for work like ours is only to be acquired in secret; it is only the man who has a large, varied and original life with God who can go on speaking about the things of God with fresh interest; but a thousand things happen to interfere with such a prayerful and meditative life. It is not because our arguments for religion are not strong enough that we fail to convince, but because the argument is wanting which never fails to tell; and this is religion itself. People everywhere can appreciate this, and nothing can supply the lack of it. The hearers may not know why their minister, with all his gifts, does not make a religious impression on them; but it is because he is not himself a spiritual power.[14]

There comes to my mind a reminiscence from college days, which grows more significant to me the longer I live. One Saturday morning at our Missionary Society there came, at our invitation, to talk to us about our future life, the professor who was the idol of the students and reputed the most severely scientific of the whole staff. We used to think him keen, too, and cynical; and what we expected was perhaps a scathing exposure of the weaknesses of ministers or a severe exhortation to study. It turned out, on the contrary, to be a strange piece, steeped in emotion and full of almost lyrical tenderness; and I can still remember the kind of awe which fell on us, as, from this reserved nature, we heard a conception of the ministry which had scarcely occurred to any of us before; for he said, that the great purpose for which a minister is settled in a parish is not to cultivate scholarship, or to visit the people during the week, or even to preach to them on Sunday, but it is to live among them as a good man, whose mere presence is a demonstration which cannot be gainsaid that there is a life possible on earth which is fed from no earthly source, and that the things spoken of in church on Sabbath are realities.

Side by side with this reminiscence there lives in my memory another, which also grows more beautiful the more I learn of life. It was my happiness, when I was ordained, to be settled next neighbour to an aged and saintly minister. He was a man of competent scholarship, and had the reputation of having been in early life a powerful and popular preacher. But it was not to these gifts that he owned his unique influence. He moved through the town, with his white hair and somewhat staid and dignified demeanour, as a hallowing presence. His very passing in the street was a kind of benediction, and the people, as they looked after him, spoke of him to each other with affectionate veneration. Children were proud when he laid his hand on their heads, and they treasured the kindly words which he spoke to them. At funerals and other seasons of domestic solemnity his presence was sought by people of all denominations. We who laboured along with him in the ministry felt that his mere existence in the community was an irresistible demonstration of Christianity and a tower of strength to every good cause. Yet he had not gained this position of influence by brilliant talents or great achievements or the pushing of ambition; for he was singularly modest, and would have been the last to credit himself with half the good he did. The whole mystery lay in this, that he had lived in the town for forty years a blameless life, and was known by everybody to be a godly and prayerful man. He was good enough to honour me with his friendship; and his example wrote deeply upon my mind these two convictions—that it may sometimes be of immense advantage to spend a whole lifetime in a single pastorate, and that the prime qualification for the ministry is goodness.[15]


[7] "One great part of the history of the Bible is the history of Calls."—DEAN CHURCH.

[8] I am sorry to observe that even Mr. G.A. Smith, whose Commentary on Isaiah is distinguished not only by thorough scholarship but by what is far rarer in works of the kind—a profusion of just and inspiring ideas—at this point, following bad examples, says that there are ideas imported into the account of Isaiah's call which belonged to a later period of his life. Not only is this wrong psychologically, because it minimises the divinatory power of the human spirit in the great moments of experience; but surely it is utterly wrong artistically, because, if the ideas are historically out of place, Isaiah himself ought to have felt that, by placing them there, he was breaking the spell of verisimilitude, on which the effect of such a picture depends.

[9] This is the literal translation, "The fulness of the whole world is His glory."

[10] The lips of Jeremiah were also touched in his call by the hand of God. But the meaning appears to have been different. He had complained that he could not speak—that he was tongue-tied. The touch of the Divine hand may have meant that the restraining cord was loosed, and a free passage made for the utterance of what he had to say. The words which accompanied the touch suggest, however, a slightly different idea—"Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth." The difficulty of Jeremiah was not exactly that of Moses, who, when he complained that he could not speak, meant that, never having acquired the art of expressing himself, he could not utter what he had to say, even though he was full of matter. This was the natural difficulty of an elderly man; for the art of expression has to be acquired in youth. But the difficulty of a young man like Jeremiah is not so much to express what he has to say as to get something worth saying. This was what Jeremiah complained of; and the touching of his lips meant that God was putting His own words into his mouth. It was a promise that the well of ideas in his mind should not run dry, but that God would give him such a revelation of His mind and will as would supply him with an ample message to his age. All three cases are full of instruction and encouragement.

[11] "After passing through the fundamental religious experiences of forgiveness and cleansing, which are in every case the indispensable premises of life with God, Isaiah was left to himself. No direct summons was addressed to him, no compulsion was laid on him; but he heard the voice of God asking generally for messengers, and he, on his own responsibility, answered it for himself in particular. He heard from the Divine lips of the Divine need for messengers, and he was immediately full of the mind that he was the man for the mission, and of the heart to give himself to it. So great an example cannot be too closely studied by candidates for the ministry in our own day. Sacrifice is not the half-sleepy, half-reluctant submission to the force of circumstance or opinion, in which shape it is so often travestied among us, but the resolute self-surrender and willing resignation of a free and reasonable soul. There are many in our day who look for an irresistible compulsion into the ministry of the Church; sensitive as they are to the material bias by which men roll off into other professions, they pray for something of a similar kind to prevail with them in this direction also. There are men who pass into the ministry by social pressure or the opinion of the circles they belong to, and there are men who adopt the profession simply because it is on the line of least resistance. From which false beginnings rise the spent force, the premature stoppages, the stagnancy, the aimlessness and heartlessness, which are the scandals of the professional ministry and the weakness of the Christian Church in our day. Men who drift into the ministry, as it is certain so many do, become mere ecclesiastical flotsam and jetsam, incapable of giving carriage to any soul across the waters of this life, uncertain of their own arrival anywhere, and of all the waste of their generation, the most patent and disgraceful. God will have no driftwood for His sacrifices, no drift-men for His ministers. Self-consecration is the beginning of His service, and a sense of our own freedom and our own responsibility is an indispensable element in the act of self-consecration."—G.A. SMITH: Isaiah.

[12] I do not know that I have ever seen an entirely satisfactory statement of what constitutes a call to the ministry. Probably it is one of those things of the Spirit which cannot be mathematically defined. The variety of the calls in Scripture warns us against laying down any scheme to which the experience of every one must conform. It is the same as with the commencement of the spiritual life, where also the work of the Spirit of God overflows our definitions. While some can remember and describe the whole process through which they have passed, others who exhibit as undeniably the marks of the Divine handiwork can give comparatively little account of how it took place. The test of the reality of the change is not its power of being made into a good story. In the one case, however, as in the other, a conscientious man will give all diligence to make his calling and election sure. Excellent chapters on the subject will be found in Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students and Blaikie's For the Work of the Ministry.

[13] "You have to be busy men, with many distractions, with time not your own: and yet, if you are to be anything, there is one thing you must secure. You must have time to enter into your own heart and be quiet, you must learn to collect yourselves, to be alone with yourselves, alone with your own thoughts, alone with eternal realities which are behind the rush and confusion of moral things, alone with God. You must learn to shut your door on all your energy, on all your interests, on your hopes and fears and cares, and in the silence of your chamber to 'possess your souls.' You must learn to look below the surface; to sow the seed which you will never reap; to hear loud voices against you or seductive ones, and to find in your own heart the assurance and the spell which makes them vain. Whatever you do, part not with the inner sacred life of the soul whereby we live within to 'things not seen,' to Christ, and truth and immortality. Your work, your activity, belong to earth; no real human interest, nothing that stirs or attracts or that troubles men in this scene of life, ought to be too great or too little for you. But your thoughts belong to heaven; and it is to that height that they must rise, it is there that in solitude and silence they must be rekindled, and enlarged, and calmed, if even activity and public spirit are not to degenerate into a fatal forgetfulness of the true purpose of your calling—a forgetfulness of the infinite tenderness and delicacy, of the unspeakable sacredness, of the mysterious issues, which belong to the ministry of souls."—DEAN CHURCH.

[14] "Habet autem ut obedienter audiatur quantacunque granditate dictionis majus pondus vita dicentis."—ST. AUGUSTINE.

[15] As he has been dead for several years, I need not hesitate to give the name of my dear and honoured friend—the Rev. James Black, of Dunnikier.



We have committed ourselves, in our mode of dealing with the subject of these lectures, to the guidance of Scripture; and I have already, in the opening lecture, alluded to the doubt, which might arise in some minds that this method might carry us away from the living questions of the present age. But long experience has taught me to be very confident in this method of study. It is astonishing how directly, when trusting to the leading hand of Scripture, one is conducted to the heart of almost any subject, and how frequently one is thus compelled to take up delicate aspects of present questions which one would otherwise timidly avoid; while there is, besides, this other great advantage, that one can always go forward with a firm step, having at one's back a Divine warrant and authority. To-day we shall have an illustration of this; for the method which we are obeying will carry us straight into the midst of the burning questions of the hour; and the example of the prophets will press on our attention an aspect of ministerial duty which the times are urgently clamouring for, but which it is by no means easy to face. In our last lecture we were occupied with the call of the prophet to the service of God; to-day we have to study wherein consisted this service itself.

* * * * *

Here we are at once confronted with a contrast between the work of Old Testament prophets and that of modern ministers, to which it is by no means easy to adjust the mind. Our message in modern times is addressed to the individual; but the message of the prophets was addressed to the nation. The unit in our minds is always the soul; we warn every man to flee from the wrath to come; we reason and wrestle with him in the name of Heaven; we watch over the growth of his character; and we estimate our success by the number of individuals brought into the kingdom. In the prophets there is a complete absence of all this. They are no less in earnest; their aim is equally clear before them; but the unit in their minds is different: it is the Jewish state, or at least the city of Jerusalem, as a whole. A recent commentator[16] on Isaiah has raised the question, whether Isaiah has a gospel for the individual. He makes out that he has; but it is in a somewhat round-about way; and it is not done without, to some extent, attributing to Isaiah a point of view which was not his. It was Christ who introduced the modern point of view. He was the discoverer of the individual. It was He who taught the world to believe in the dignity and destiny of the single soul; and He trained His ministers to seek and save it.

Isaiah's position, however, is well worth studying, and has its own lesson for us. Only we must acknowledge it to be what it really is, and endeavour to place ourselves on his standpoint. To him the New Testament position was no more possible than the modern view of ethics was to the ancient philosophers; and the student of philosophy saturated from birth with the modern ideas of freedom and individuality, has an exactly similar difficulty to overcome, as he reads, for example, the Republic of Plato, where the state is everything and the individual nothing.

While a message to any individual is rare in the prophetical books, that which we come upon wherever we open them is a patriotic and statesman-like appeal on the condition of the country. The prophets addressed themselves by preference to the heads and representatives of the people, such as kings, princes and priests; because the power to effect changes in the situation of the country rested in their hands. But they also took advantage of large popular gatherings, and in some conspicuous place, such as the city-gate or the court of the temple, delivered their message, which thus might reach every corner of the land. A name which they delight to apply to themselves is Watchmen. As the watchman, stationed on his tower over the city-gate, kept guard over the safety of the place, giving notice when danger was approaching and summoning the citizens to defend themselves, so the prophets from their watch-tower—that is, the position of elevation and observation which inspiration gave them—watched over the weal of the state, observing narrowly its condition within, keeping their eye on the influences to which it was exposed from without, and, when danger threatened, giving the alarm. Their acquaintance is extraordinary with the state of every part of the country; and still more astonishing is their knowledge of surrounding countries. When they have to speak of Moab or Edom, they seem as familiar with the towns and rivers, the customs and history of these countries, as with those of Judah; and they appear to be as well acquainted with what is going on in the cities on the Nile or the Euphrates as with what is happening in Jerusalem. No home secretary is as well acquainted with the internal affairs of his own country, and no foreign secretary with the affairs of foreign countries. It was their vocation to be sensitively alive to all the influences, near or remote, by which their native land could be affected.

* * * * *

The contents of the prophetic writings, notwithstanding their variety, easily fall into a few great masses. The chief are these three—Criticism, Denunciation and Comfort.

1. There is a great mass of what may be called Criticism. Standing on their watch-tower and turning their observation on the internal condition of the state, the prophets could nearly always discern diseased symptoms in the body corporate, and it was their duty to point them out. So Isaiah commences his prophecies: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." And he thus gives expression to the obligation which was laid on him to make these discoveries known: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."

The sins which the prophets had to reprehend were pretty uniform all through the prophetic period; and it is interesting to compare them with those by which our own age is afflicted. There is no school in which the conscience can be so well educated to a sense of public sin as in the writings of the prophets.

The root evil was always Idolatry. The nation was continually falling away from the worship of the true God to idols, or at least the worship of other deities was incorporated with that of Jehovah. This was always both a symptom of advanced degradation and the head and fountain of other evils of the worst kind. All the prophets attack it with all the weapons in their armoury—with hot indignation and close argument and scalding tears. Isaiah is remarkable for attacking it with raillery and sarcasm. He takes his readers into the idol workshop and details the process of their manufacture. He shows us the workmen, surrounded with their plates of metal and logs of wood, out of which the god is to be fashioned, and busy with their files and planes, their axes and hammers, putting together the helpless thing. The idolmaker, he says, has a fine ash or oak or cedar-tree, and makes a pretty idol with it; but with the same wood he lights his fire and cooks his dinner—"He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself and saith, Aha, aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire; and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth it and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god."

Closely associated with idolatry was Luxury. So successful to our minds is the polemic of a prophet like Isaiah against idolatry that the wonder to us is that it was ever necessary; and, indeed, there are few things more puzzling to the ordinary reader of Scripture than the constant lapses of the people of God into idolatry. How could they, knowing the true God, exchange a worship so rational and elevated for the worship of stocks and stones? The explanation is a simple but a humiliating one. The worship of these foreign deities was accompanied with sensual excesses, which appealed to the strongest elementary passions of human nature. Feasts, dances and drunken orgies formed part of the worship of Baal and the other Canaanite divinities. Idolatry in Israel was never due to theoretic changes of opinion; it was only the way in which an outbreak of laxity and luxury manifested itself. Its equivalent in our day would be an excessive development of the passion for amusement and excitement, destroying the dignity and seriousness of life. The wealthy and fashionable classes led the way, as they generally do in periods of moral retrogression; and the worst symptom of all was when the womanhood of the country surrendered itself to the prevailing tendencies. This last feature of degradation had developed itself in Isaiah's day; and he attacks it with a strange combination of humour and moral indignation: "Because the daughters of Jerusalem are haughty, and walk with outstretched neck and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a tinkling with their feet, therefore ... the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls and their round tires like the moon, the chains and the bracelets and the mufflers, the bonnets and the ornaments of the legs and the headbands, the tablets and the earrings, the rings and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel and the mantles and the wimples and the crisping pins, the glasses and the fine linen, and the hoods and the veils; and it shall come to pass that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink, and instead of a girdle a rent, and instead of well-set hair baldness, and instead of a stomacher a girdle of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty."

Then there was Oppression. Excessive luxury in the upper classes is usually accompanied with misery among those at the opposite end of the social scale; because the rich in such a state of society are heartless, and not only neglect the poor, but oppress them. The prophets are full of the wrongs inflicted on the weak by the powerful. The wealthy landowners took advantage of the difficulties of their less prosperous neighbours to rob them of their holdings and remove the ancient landmarks; and the courts of law were so corrupt that those who could not bribe the occupants of the chair of justice had no chance of redress. The spirit of the constitution was so far violated that the rich held their own fellow-countrymen in slavery, and did not even give them the advantage of the year of jubilee. Many a page of the writings of the prophets looks like a programme for the reform of abuses with which we are too familiar in our own civilisation. "Woe," says Jeremiah, "to him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's services without wages and giveth him not for his work."

Last of all there was Hypocrisy. In spite of these sins, crying to Heaven, there was seldom any lack of religiosity or the outward forms of religion. Religion was divorced from morality, and ritual was substituted for righteousness. There is no commoner or weightier burden in the prophets than this. It is on this subject that Isaiah lets loose the whole force of his prophetic soul in his very first chapter, where there is a truly appalling picture of the combination of religious rites the most multiplied with moral abuses the most clamant: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of rams or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And, when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash you; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow."

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse