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The Decline Of Ministerial Influence

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It is a common saying, that the iniluenoo ol thu Christian ministry pon the cominunity is less than it used to be. Undoubtedly this is a faot And it is a nistake t suppoee that the fact is necossarily and altogother of evil omen tor Jhristianity. In so far as it implies that the laity of the church aio shaiing in the jrovince forn.erly lelt to the niinistry, its siguiiicaiico is altogetlicr good. The ;mat deelopineut ol lay activity, in beïuvolent enterprises, ia work aiuong tho destitute, and m the conduct and worship of the church, is perhaps the most ! eneouraging feature in the religious lifu of the time. Sotaras tbs relativa iinjoitance of the minister's place is lessen'd from this cause, he will be the tlrst to ■ejoice in it, if ho is faithful to the spirit )f his calling. So far, too, as the dilluion of intelligence in the wholo commuïity lessens the height of the teacher abovü tho taught, there is no cause forre ;rct. Buttheqiffcsüon rciuuins ; Istbere, eyond these causes, a positive loss of inluence on the part of lbo ministry ; a oss which is a misl'ortune, and neod to be emedied 't We believe that there is such i weakening of power, and that the min stry, for reasons to be considered, fails to zert its normal and desirablo innuencc. Over the mass of his eongregation, the average preaeher seenis indeed to have as nucli s way as formorly. But he largely ails in reaching the more highly edueatd and intelligent portion. We are fat 'rom saying.that he fails ftltogether. But, s a general fact, that vcry large class of yersons who are c&pable of thinking for .hi'uisi -lves on religious subjects, Wlth a jood degree of intelligence and indo'finli -nee, fail in a great measure to tind n the ordiuury ministvations ot' the pulJit thu spiritual food whi'h they need nd crave. To a great extt rit this class s passing from under tho inflnence ot' the )hri8tiau niinistry, and out of sympathy vith it. The consequencea do not ejd with tho alienation of this class by itself. Iu our democratie society tho sentiment pi the eduMted few rapidly penatrates the wholè mass. The power over the whole cominunity of any single profession. even the ministerial, is slight eompaved to that of the general body of ediicated, thouglitful men. That the lattér should be growing out of Rympathy with the professional teachers of religión is a vry seriousfaet. That itisso weshall not uttempt to prove ; wo siislply appeal to uil intelligent observation. The causea of it, we believe, lie chietly in no inherent quftlity of Christianity, or necessity of the ministerial calling. They are for the p irt to be found in i'alse niethods of training and want of adaptation to present necessities; The trouble begins when in the theologieal seminarjp tue student ia. principally taiight in subjoots which to the mind of his age have ceased to be living matters. Thu controveisies of jast generations last longer witbin the walls of theologieal schools than they doanywhereolse. What tothe living nnnd of tmr time is tho eontrovergy bfetweeti Calvipietq and Arminianism ? or between the substitütiön and governïnental theoriea of the atonement? or thn discussion concerning original sin ? or jv'wards' thcory of the will? or the metaptysics of the Trinityi' We do not stiy that (UCh subjects should be ignorcd. . They shviuUt be studied atteutcntivi'ly, as phases iu the mental lifu of the church in times past, and with considerable inüuence on the preBefat. I3ut to inake CUëm the ehief subjects of gtudy, to equip and drill studente with main refbrenoe to these, is like dressing soldiers in medieval armor who have got to face riiltdciiiio . Modern thought ia handling with great vigor and boldncss roligious ijuestioiiB far more central tfaao I lt is pondiring the nature of the bunder of Christianity, not in the light of proof texts, but by the freest and most critical c Kamination of the rooords. It is testing the uvidence as to the inspiración of iSeriptnri.'S, and the nature of that inspiration, by metliods widely différent from tho öld n priori discuesion. Aside Ifoin thisu qücstions we have the great and aggiessivü school of philosophy, which bcgins by ignoring the Bupernatural. It is with such matton ts these that the student of iheology should bo familiarized; the discussions which touch the heart of religión instead of it8 garments. The characteristie Ihought of our time is keenly exercised, too, on a class of 6ubjpets and with methode of investigation utterly unlike the traditional topics atad metliods of theology, yet with a vital hearing on religious belief - the philosophy, namely, of natural scienco. The theologieal student should bo made familiar witli this. But he is generally left in profound ignoranoe of it, knowing ju-t. enough to have a vast and vague dread of " acientiflc infidelity." Nothing is more etriking than the inability of minds thus trained to fairly comprehnd the positions of men liko Tyndall and Iluxley. In oppo8Íng the oonolusioDS and tendencias of these writerstbe young minister is too often like one who beats the air. If " scientiflo intídelity" be as wholly dreadful a thing as it is generally repute d, it can only bc intelligently met and overeóme by those who thoronghly uiiih-rstand it. But, in truth, the sci Qtist's metliods and his legitímate eonelu simi-; are f uil of positivo value to the 6tudent of religious truth. IIo could botter afford, if need were, to leave Augustine and Calvin unread, than to miss the sublime view of tho universo which the heights of modern science afford. Furthi r, a radical difticulty in mucli of our theologieal teaching lies here : the object proposed at the outset is to fortify the pupil in a particular mode of belief, rather tban to make him a student and lover of truth wherever it exists. What would be thonght of a school of medicine in wliich the professors aimed to convi.nce the student that the existing modes of treatment admiitcd of no improvoment 'i or a school boy of natural scienco whioh treated thejlisoovery cf r,cw faets as a faalt 't But theology - in its proper nature the noblest and most universal of the sciences, the child of liberty, the lover ut' all truth, the leader of the human race - theology has been manacled and gnarded, and the firstand last injunction to its votaries has been to stand still I A better temper is prevailing, Hut the old habit lingers stubbornly, and unless the spirit that puts truth above Boot spreads faster than it nts dono tliis and the noxt geperation wil] suffer no email hana, When the theologuu becomes a pastor he is sti 11, as a ruie, under heavy bonds to te.aeh notliing outside oí' a well-defined and somewhat narrow spacc. It has boon said, and that with too muoh tvulli, that the liberty of Protestantism is oniy liberty to choose ono sect out of niiiny. Ha ving choson, a man is likely to find himsolf in ;v prutty narrow house, with only tho alternativo oí' moving into another tliat is no wider. If this liolds good to Bome extent of the simple churoh-membor, it applins far moro to the preaoher. This pii t s Inii at a groat disadvantage in reaching tlie indepeudent tliinker. No I One oan have tho highest poworover truthloving souls who can not speak out with perfect freedom from his own conviction. To sum up in a word, the failuro oi' t)m avorage Christian ministor to pffoctively rcach the most intelligent and independent of liis hearers is duo, fint, t his ignoranoe of their modes of thougnt, which is the fault of his training; and secondly, to his bias toward tho interest of a soct, which is partly inwrought in his mind by his education, and p:irtly enforced by liis ciromnstaiiees. These causes are not irreiuovablc ; and they must bu riünoved, it' tho ministry is not to loso its


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