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Art. IV.–CHANGE OF SURROUNDING INFLUENCES
IN THE MINISTERIAL LIFE.
WE remember once hearing the Ovidian fragment, “ medio tutissimus ibis,” thus translated : Ibis, the stork, tutissimus, is safest, medio, in the middle. How it may be with storks we do not know; but we are pretty certain that it holds good with respect to the other order of bipeds. We are moreover of opinion, that there never was an age in which this truth was less patronized than the present. To look for the golden mean, is like looking for the philosopher's stone. We ask, Where is it? and the echo answers, Where?
On this ground, we could find it in our heart to take up our parable against the congregated world. But this comprehensive quarrel we pretermit for the present. We now confine ourselves to a small though influential segment of it—the ministers of religion. Referring, then, to the above specimen of Nasonic ornithology, we say to them, Go to the stork, and be wise. How little do they think of the ne quid nimis ! How full of heresy are they upon the article of the aurea mediocritas! For what is their usual life? Sermon-writing in the morning, and pastoral visits in the evening, to be followed by a second course of sermon-writing and pastoral visits on the morrow, which in its turn will transfer them, with monotonous regularity, to the day after. But peradventure some fluent and affluent brother can depend upon himself for the performance of his pulpit duties, though he defers his preparation to the Friday, or even to the Saturday. Escapeth he therefore? We trow not. The four days are haunted by the thought of the fifth and sixth, His sermon is not written, and he knoweth that he hath to write it. Men observe that his eye is fixed in cogitation; but little do they think of what he is cogitating. A duty to be done is not lessened by not doing it. His mind is at work, though his pen be idle. He looketh in the fire, and seeth his sermon in the embers : he looketh in the face of his friend, and seeth therein the first vacant page of his sermon.
We are past the term of life when sportiveness is without a meaning. We have a brotherly and kindly one. We think that our brethren in the Christian ministry are too unvaryingly engaged in some certain classes and modes of preparation. These, we grant, are most solemnly needful and important. We only contend, that, pursued as they now are, from one end of the day, week, and year, to the other—uninterrupted but by those imperious calls of business, of sickness, or of sorrow, which
sweep on, like thunder-clouds, against the whole course and pressure of life,—that, pursued as they now are, those classes and modes of preparation have too much in them of the swallowing serpent, and too little of the blossoming rod. Let us speak more plainly, that we may speak more to the purpose. We believe that our clerical brethren are, in one sense, too exclusively devoted to their duties. No religion can ever require that its ministers should be always at the altar. Our brethren appear to us to be labouring under the not ungenerous error of thinking of what they have to prepare, to the exclusion of much of that which ought to be preparative for it. Absorbed in a great end, they overlook some of the direct and necessary means. Week after week, month after month, and year after year, they are content (with few or no voluntary intermissions) to keep the tenor of their way, they had better deviate right and left into bass and treble,) in one perpetual and unbroken series of oscillations from the study to the drawing-room, from the drawing-room to the pulpit, and back again from the pulpit to the study. Now this is a life which appears to us to be most preposterous. Nature will have her revenge for such a violation of her laws. She never contemplated the existence of such anomalies—and she resents them. Most conscientiously do we believe that many a gifted and excellent minister makes himself less efficient, even in the maturity of his powers, by the unvarying regularity with which he performs his duties, within a certain defined and uniform ellipse, the two foci of which are his pulpit and his home. And if we think thus with respect to his powers in the plenitude of their vigour, there is little need for us to add, that we look upon the same causes as contributing not a little to antedate their decline. We are fully persuadedwe cannot be more so—that many a valuable minister has made his latter days comparatively inefficient, by neglecting the use of due and seasonable relaxation. He may be little aware of what is doing; but it is eventually done. The process is as gradual as the result is great. Extremes produce extremes. Overstrained exertion leads to premature exhaustion. The mind loses its freshness, from the sameness of all around it. Thought feeds upon the power of thought, when it is no longer supplied with its matter. We get the cocoa-nut by cutting down the tree. We have known some—we have heard and read of many—of whom it might have been said, with something more than sentimental regret, « These men have been constantly doing too much, to do half the good they might have done in the end."
Earnestly, therefore, would we advise our ministerial brethren,
of all characters and denominations, to make, upon principle, one or two great interruptions of their stated duties in the course of every year. We have a strong attachment to holidays of every kind. In our day, we have sustained the parts both of the scholar and of the teacher; and we know not to which of the two they are most necessary or happy. Now we maintain, that, in both these characters, the ministers of religion are called upon to keep their vacations as regularly as their terms. They are the disciples of the Highest Wisdom, and they are its apostles also. Their office is to learn Christianity, and to teach it. They can do neither so effectively as they might, from their neglect of some of the plainest and (one would think) the pleasantest means. Regular periods of relaxation are necessary to the well-being of every department of their nature. And to make such relaxation effectual, it must be complete. Nothing less than a total change of scenes and occupations will secure the object. Once a year at least, every minister should make it a point of duty to give himself up to the sweet influences of relaxation and retirement. Every year should have its period of pen-ink-and-paper-phobia. No wrong ideas of economy and so forth should interfere with the grave annual business of migration. No winter should set in before the year has afforded at least one joyous month of enfranchisement and enjoyment to every minister himself, and to all unto him appertaining. They should look forward to it as the inhabitants of the Happy Valley looked forward to the annual opening of the Iron Gates. It should be a hope before and a joy behind them. In the instances in which we have seen the experiment tried, we have received ample evidence of its delightful success. We trust we shall see it tried upon a much more extended scale. There is P- now gone, with his fine little race, to luxuriate—but nowe presume not to“ prate of his whereabout.”—Procul, Oh procul este profani !-Only think with what acquisitions he and his will return! Where will be the end of his children's delightful reminiscences ? How will their eyes sparkle, as they recall, during the long winter evenings, the adventures and misadventures (not one whit less endearing) of this identical period ! What a spell will the names of the lakes and mountains, of the streams and villages, with which they are now making acquaintance, have over their hearts for all the rest of their lives! And
h imself, will he return the same? He will tell you so, no doubt,—but in this matter only I pray you not to believe him. He knoweth nothing of the change that will have passed upon him. Consider him, you that may, the first week of his return. The shake of his hand will be like the grasp of a giant. He will
walk the streets with the firmness of a mountain. He will speak to you like a waterfall-he will look at you like an eagle. And all this will cost the privy purse but a few paltry pounds! Let Mrs.
P l ook to it. Let her dream not of our forgiveness if she be ever unprepared to make such annual disbursement. We have entrusted her with the care of our brother; and we will require him at her hands. Is it objected to us (we detest objections), that all this time his people are wanting their pastor, and asking in all the moods and tenses of impatience, “Why tarry the wheels of his chariot ?" We are glad of it with all our hearts. Both parties gain by the loss.-Observe him on his first reappearance in his pulpit. Looketh he not around him with an eye of superior love? Is not his voice more full of affection? Doth not his heart overflow more earnestly at his lips? Peradventure, for the first Sunday, he giveth them an old sermon. What of that? We love old sermons-provided they were once new. But is there nothing to atone for this delinquency ? Return again, child of reason-old things are become new. Ponder and enjoy the rich and racy energy which a freshened heart communicates to not unfamiliar words. How evident it is, that the whole inner man has had his youth renewed as the eagle's! They who run may read, that he of the pulpit has been rusticating. Unconsciously, he maketh what was beautiful more so, expandeth the great, nectarizeth the sweet, and invigorateth the strong. Well is it for his people that he had the hardihood to leave them, and to betake himself, for a season, to all the infinite of glorious visions and voices which Genius sees and hears in the solitudes of Nature.
There are things which a city life excludes, and thoughts to which a city life is adverse, for the sake of which it is desirable that the ministers of religion in cities should occasionally, and not rarely, have recourse to scenes in which there is less to speak of the creature, and more of the Creator. In cities, this is too much reversed. All around us is eloquent of the power and grandeur of humanity. We look but upon the monuments of human sagacity and labour. As a counter-influence, it is necessary, that we should retire, at times, into scenes in which the works of the Maker are not concealed from us by the works of His creatures. We deny not, that all is finally referable to God. We deny not, that whatever of good or great is achieved by the mind and hand of humanity, is, in the final view, an effluence of His glory. But we fear that this final view is somewhat rarely taken. We fear that man's works are but too eloquent of man. We believe, therefore, that it is good for us
not always to be there ;--that it is good for us, occasionally, to plunge into scenes of a very different character; in which there is nothing to interpose between the things that are made and the Maker. And this is not less desirable for the ministers of religion than for others. Though their occupations are such as to exclude gross forgetfulness of the Creator, they need (as all need) a less distant contemplation of His works, to make Him more present to their minds. Præsentiorem conspicimus Deum will be every man's confession who has turned from the crowded city to the beautiful and awful lonelinesses of his world. Natural and scriptural theology should assist and strengthen each other; and where should natural theology acquire or maintain any influence, except in the haunts and among the actual objects of Nature ?
Every man, too, must be conscious, that there may be a satiety of every blessing—of general society among the restwhich calls forits occasional suspension. Man may have too much of man. Wisdom and piety tell us, with a common voice, that
Solitude, sometimes, is best society,
And short retirement urges sweet return. But this short retirement cannot take place among the scenes of city life. A minister cannot affix a bulletin to his door, notifying that he has retired. He must " wander from his place,” to acquire the power. And verily he will have his reward. The dew will come back to the flower. Life and Nature will play into each other's hands; and he will feel that he learns from the latter more justly to appreciate the former.
Independently of all this, there is, in the mere contemplation of the works of Nature, a something refining and exalting, Viewed with no reference to any subjects of philosophy or religion-merely laying open our minds to receive the incidental impressions of the forms, colours, and effects, which pass before us,—we are all conscious of a virtue which goes out of them, of a power of calling forth the most kindling and elevating emotion, residing in and emanating from the surrounding natural objects of magnificence and of beauty. We sympathize with them, and we are conscious that our sympathies are purified and sublimed. We spiritually dilate with the grandeur of the mountain, and warm towards the loveliness of the flower. We measure infinity by the ocean, and feel the pulse of eternity under the stars. We grow greener in heart in the vernal meadow, and we freshen in spirit by the woodshadowed stream. Who will say that these influences are not worth seeking, because we cannot affirm that they have any but