Page images
PDF
EPUB

were met here to-day to pledge a lofty and solemn fidelity to a rejected and scorned faith; if this were the cave or the catacomb, to which the early Christians stole in silence and darkness; greater and dearer might it be to us, than this fair sanctuary. Better than cushioned seats and painted walls might be the ragged stone or the cold sarcophagus on which they leaned ; and sweeter than chaunt or anthem, the stern and deep-toned voice of their great resolve.

" I speak thus, not to praise goodly temples the less, but to praise sanctity and solemn intent the more. Meet it is that the temples of a nation's worship should be goodly and fair. I cannot think that this is the only point at which liberality is to pause, and expense to be carefully restricted. Every large city in the country, is each year lavishing upon luxuries, entertainments, spectacles—upon things that perish with the passing year-enough to build ten noble churches; and every town and village is doing the same thing in its proportion. Now surely, if there is any thing for which a people should be willing even to strain their resources somewhat, it is to do that well which is to be done but once in the course of some hundred years; to bestow some unusual care and expense on that which is to be associated with religious ideas, and in that important relation to be viewed with pleasure or disgust, by the eyes of passing generations.

“A church, too, is more than a work of art; it is a symbol. It is a symbol of religion; a visible sign and setting forth of the religious sentiment. Churches are the outward consecration of our cities, of our vil. lages, of our country, of the world. They are visible tokens of the invisible; they lead the thoughts to the unseen and infinite. Their rising towers, their pointing spires, recognize a communication between earth and heaven. They are like the ladder which Jacob saw in a vision, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending; and he who pauses beneath them in the sacred hours to meditate and pray, is sometimes led to exclaim, with the antient patriarch, how dreadful is this place ! this is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven! What would a city or a village be, even in appearance, even to the passing traveller, without churches !-a city of habitations and warehouses, and houses of entertainment for the wayfaring man, and houses of pleasure for the gay, and without one structure to recognize the sense of duty and of devotion ? Would not the very traveller hasten, for his life, from such a city, as the city of destruction ? And what a striking testimony is it, to the universal sense of some kind of religion, that one such city was never found in the world.”—p. 6.

· Mr. Dewey proceeds to specify the particular views and uses to which his church is consecrated. And we rejoice to find that his first and grand idea is that of the finite and the feeble seeking the infinite and the perfect, not binding itself to carry into its future any set of notions, but simply seeking light, improvement, nearer and nearer assimilations to truth and God.

“Let me say, that our main desire and purpose is to consecrate this

place of worship, not to any extraordinary novelties ; not to any strange and singular opinions ; not to any controversial dogmas ; not to any vain presumption that we alone on all points are right, and that others, on all points, are wrong. We would consecrate this church, not to pride of opinion, but to modesty and humility; not to assurance but to inquiry ; not to any unbecoming claim of infallibility, but to the great principle of religious progress. We stand here on a humble spot, upon a vast globe, which is yet itself, but a humble spot amidst the infinitude of worlds and systems—and here, in the morning twilight of our being, we build an altar not only to the truth which we do know, but the truth which we hope to know. Yet none the less do we build it to the truth which we do know. To the old, the primal, the time-hallowed truths of -all religion ; to the elder faith of Christians,-sanctified by their prayers and sealed with their blood ; to the common, so far as it is the most heartfelt, faith of all Christians now, do we dedicate this temple. To the unity of the faith in the bond of peace, do we dedicate it; to one God, the Father; to one Saviour, Jesus Christ; to one Divine Spirit, sent to enlighten, sanctify, and save us ; to the faith of a divine revelation, and of an universal and kind providence; to the boundless grace of God in the gospel; to the instruction of mankind in righteousness, to their redemption from sin, and to the hope of everlasting life. Above all, and emphatically, do we dedicate this church to the cross of Christ. We call it after the name of the great Messiah. We dedicate it to his cross. That symbol, if the act would not be misunderstood, would I gladly see raised high, above the tower of this consecrated building. It is the distinctive symbol of our salvation. In that cross, to my eyes, shine most brightly, the mercy of God and the hope of man. In saying this I intend to say nothing blindly or mysteriously. Out of mystery into reality would I bring that great sacrifice; out of à vague and ineffectual reliance, into a distinct and living sympathy; out of theory into practice ; out of the study into the heart. I utter no professional dictum when I say, that I hold the heartfelt knowledge of what that cross meaneth to be the dearest knowledge on earth. Truly and deeply, and in a sense not yet enough understood, is it saving knowledge. The Catholic worships that cross. I too would have it worshipped ; but it should not be the worshipping of a mere symbol, nor of the mere agony that it sets forth. It should be the 'worship of sorrow,' endeared by its patience; it should be the worship of divine meekness, of victorious humiliation, of all conquering forgiveness, of all consummating self sacrifice. It is a worship, which if I could put it into the heart of any worldly and self indulgent being, would make him a new and happy creature. Before that cross were it rightly revered and worshipped, all worldly pride and vain glory would sink to the dust; all Christian virtues would spring up—amidst tears, amidst penitence, amidst self renunciation, they should spring up—fair and beautiful like the life and love of Jesus. By this sign should men conquer- not as Constantine conquered; the world's very ambition should then be conquered, won, redeemed to the service of God; and the paths—the till now weary and

darkened paths of earth-should be bright and happy, I had almost said, as the regions of heaven !

" You will not suppose, I trust, that I wish you to infer from what I have now said, that the liberty of explaining Christianity which every body of believers claim for themselves, is to be denied to us. We have our explanation ; and not denying that others have it in part, yet of such price do I hold it, that it involves, in my estimation, almost the entire value of Christianity itself. But there is not space here, and now is not the time, when I wish to go into minute explanations. We look upon these walls in which we trust that the worship of centuries is to be celebrated-of centuries in whose growing light we believe that many a glaring and fiery dispute of present times will fade away—and our thoughts are not of controversy. We are thinking rather of that uncontroverted and venerable Christianity, which through this durable monument, we wish to bequeath to them that shall come after us. We rejoice that not by the breath of words only, which die in the utterance, but through these massive walls, our mind, our purpose, our desire, shall stand declared. I lay my hand upon this pulpit—this altar place of our prayer—and from that dim future of some distant century, comes one, now unborn and unknown, and lays his hand upon it; and we speak to him and to the brethren yet to stand here with him. We tell them of our care, while in life, for the precious cause of religion and virtue; we tell them that we thought of our children and of our children's children; we commit to them, in sacred trust, that blessed religion in which alone the generations of mankind can be blessed and conducted to heaven; we invoke upon them, through the flight of years, the mercy of that God who showeth mercy to thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments.'”—p. 10.

Mr. Dewey dedicates his Church especially to practical religion—to a religion that has the most intimate connexion with our daily life and welfare. We gladly recognize in the veteran and practised preacher the freshest inspirations of the prophet; and we thank him for the tones of reality in which he vindicates the earnestness of the pulpit :

“ These with me are not mere words, of course. From this imputation, above all things, would I rescue this pulpit. If I believed that this pulpit must utter certain things as a matter of course, which as a matter of course and no otherwise, are to be received ; if I believed that it must stand thus isolated, that it must have a language of its own, that the very truths it utters are to be truths no where else, I would never have entered it. I would never stand here a mere automaton preacher—to beat the air—to pour forth words, which should only be reverberated from these walls, and whose effect, like the echoes that return to me, should die away at my feet: to declare doctrines on which there should be a sedulous attendance to day, and to morrow, no more to do with them, than if they were uttered in a dream. I cannot con

sent to spend my life in such a formal, such a merely spectral ministration.

“ But the more material question remains-How is the pulpit to minister to human welfare? On this subject, I must confine myself to two or three observations out of the many that present their claims to attention.

In the first place, then, the pulpit, in its ministration, must be at once comprehensive and practical. . . . But particularly in regard to its comprehensiveness, let me ask, if it is not often left to be felt that the pulpit does not recognize much that belongs to the moral interest and grandeur of life? Does it not coldly stand aside, or aloof, from the ardor of youthful affections, from the gushings of enthusiasm, from the pangs of the neglected and forlorn, from the infirmity and weariness of the beaten path of life? Are not men left to feel that the pulpit does not consider them— does not know them in many of their most interesting emotions ? The moral essay, the theological disquisition—what has that to do with the impassioned fervor which swells the human heart almost to bursting? The parent does not often enough consider that, in his child, he does not often enough consider the tears that fill the eye; the feelings that thrill that young heart. But still less does the pulpit consider all this in those who surround it. That band of human hearts should be like an electric chain to it. How many things, dear and lovely are passing upon earth, and passing away from it that should come to us here!—the lineaments of mortal love fading away into heaven—the holy band of maternal tenderness, laid upon the innocent forehead—the clasp of affection, that could die for its object—the calm and resolved brow that is ready to sacrifice fortune, fame, life itself, for its dear integritythe sense of all things beautiful and brave, and heroic, breathing in literature, in poetry, in the marble and on the canvass, and thrilling through the heart of the world !-yet does one thrill of all this touch the cold and stately pulpit ?

Again, the pulpit must be practical. Its business is with the actual, conscious, instant life, or it is nothing; or nothing but a barren negation of all true power. I confess that this practical end of Christianity is of such an absorbing interest to me, that I am not able, and I do not think that I ever shall be able, to discourse much to you on controverted doctrines. They should be discussed, indeed ; but for many reasons, I think that the printed page, and not the pulpit, is the place for them. Other things press upon me here. I see that men are chiefly erring, mistaking and falling into misery and ruin, on far other than doctrinal grounds. And while I see this—while I see that actual life is the very sphere of salvation, or perdition to them, I cannot be for ever drawing the lines of metaphysical distinction, that never cross the path of life. I cannot weave about religion the wire drawn meshes of a speculative creed. I cannot set it forth, weighed down under the cumbrous drapery of scholastic times, I must deal with it as clothed with the flexible and familiar garments of modern and real life. That heavy costume brought from the middle ages to invest modern religion, seems to me fitted only to crush and to kill it, or if it leaves any life, it leaves only a maimed, pained, burthened, and shackled Christian life.. It may be called the armor of safety, the garment of salvation. But I cannot account so, of what I call salvation. This great achievement is to be wrought out through free, energetic, spiritual, action. It is to be wrought out in the midst of life, and by the effect of life. It is not a church business, but a world business. The church is built for teaching, not for doing. It is built doubtless for excitement to doing; and for doing itself, if you please; but only for so much of the work as can legitimately be accomplished, within the time that is passed in it. To think to do it all up here, is fatal to the end. It is treason to the designs of providence. Life-life, I repeat, is the stage, the field, the battle field, where the good fight is to be fought, and the glorious victory to be won. What is the religion worth, that springs up, and lives, and dies, here? What sort of a Christian is he, of whose Christianity, nothing but church walls, and church meetings ever see any thing? Nay, and what do church meetings see of such a man's Christianity, when his temper is tried, or his interests touched ? I am afraid to tell you what they see. But this at least, I am impelled to say, as I look at the effects of an isolated Christianity.--I say, my friends, that I am afraid of Churches ; I am afraid of Church peculiarity; I am afraid of every thing that is shut up within Church walls, with which common principles and common opinions are thought to have nothing to do. I am shocked at the pride, passion, and insincerity, that can grow up in such places, when cut off from the world. I fear that in some respects the religious morale falls below the social morale of the country. There may be less of gross vice admitted into it; but how is it, with evil speaking, oppression, duplicity, and breaches of good manners? There are things said and done in religious bodies, which, I fear, can scarcely have any good report among honourable men in the world. It avails very little that men in such circumstances call one another brethren. It availed very little to Abner in the antient story, that Joab spake to him quietly,' and while so doing 'smote him under the fifth rib.'

« Official persons and bodies are always liable to err, just in proportion as they set at defiance public opinion; and therefore in this Country religious persons and bodies are, of all, the most exposed. Preachers are constantly saying in the pulpit, what they would never venture to say any where else. They utter denunciations, no where else to be endured. Or when the pastoral bond is broken-broken for good cause perhaps—broken at least very willingly—then both pastor and people utter commendations to one another, in their official capacity, which every body knows to be insincere. And why? because it was a religious connexion ! A distinguished clergyman* said ten years ago, and printed the declaration, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was the most unprincipled court in Christendom. I do not presume to decide whether this was true. But if it were true, why was it ? Bea cause it was a Christian assembly! It is because the Church thinks itself entitled to stand aloof from the judgment of all mankind. This preşumption, I hold, must be broken down; these battlements of pre

* Rev. Andrew Thomson.

« PreviousContinue »