Images de page

If a man converted from the errors of the Established Church should“ desire the office of a bishop” among the Dissenters, he “ desireth a very good work ;” but it is one to which he will find it exceedingly difficult to obtain an available introduction. For there are certain settled methods of procuring pastors and of attaining pastorships; and he who endeavours to reach his end otherwise than by the beaten tracks, will usually discover that that “providence" is against him which overrules the " calls” to the elder's chair among the Nonconformists. He who would have on his side this providence, must commonly be born a Dissenter, bred at a Dissenting college, and walk in the ways of Nonconformist tradition It is a common, but not very encouraging, remark among them, that converts from other systems seldom make very good Independent ministers.

In the present paper we shall expound the operation of the nachinery by which the "congregational ” churches are supplied with pastors, for the special benefit of any of the clergy who may be contemplating secession, and, perhaps, with the faint hope of drawing attention to some possible improvements.

When an independent minister has finished his course in any church, either by death, or by removal to a wider sphere, the attention of the people is directed to the arduous business of choosing a successor to the vacant episcopate. It is then that the strain usually comes upon the structure of these societies, and that the maxim of engineers, that no machine is stronger than its weakest part, so often receives a melancholy illustration in the department of ecclesiastical economics. The fortunes of the churches during and after these crises depend nearly altogether upon the quality of the persons holding the deacon's office. A few weak men, either rich or poor, may then occasion total shir

. wreck in a wonderfully short space of time; and, on the other hand, even a single upright, able, devout, kind-hearted administrator may by his clear insight, his firmness, love, and godly wisdom, minds to gather in sympathy around him, and bring this most delicate proceeding, under God's blessing, to a happy issue. It is fair to say that the country presents at least as many examples of wise and good men successfully directing affairs during these awkward interregnums of Independency as can be found of an opposite description. Notwithstanding the faults and infirmities of many individuals, there is not probably under heaven a more well-intentioned and God-fearing set of men than the deacons of the Nonconformist churches ; and since honesty is the root of wisdom, we must attribute the measure of actually-existing good to the action of these upright men occupied in working a system which is fitted to confound the judgment even of the most sagacious church-rulers in the kingdom. The faults of the order are caused

by congregationalism.

cause al

the vacant pulpits.


, then, are the deacons to do when a new minister is to be selected and appointed? Three courses are open to them. They 1137 write to the colleges ; they may write to some distinguished man of the " denomination;" or they may use independent action, by catering into correspondence either with “moveable” ministers setiled in some other district, or with persons who themselves make siplication directly or indirectly to become candidates for the ste

. Sometimes they adopt the first course, and write to the colleges

, being determined to this method by several laudable and lawful, and by some secondary and perhaps equivocal considerations. There is always a charm in youth; it brings good spirits, hopeful tiems, readiness for work, and for speculative building, and possibly Fotze freshness and vigour of intelligence. The families will like a young man from college: he will grow up in the office, and will be formed by existing influences. A young man, also, cannot rule with much authority; neither can he dictate very severe terms of support . The colleges, therefore, supply a considerable share of

The tutors of these institutions, in consequerce

, are the depositaries of a large amount of patronage. They cannot force a man upon a congregation, but they can do a good deal towards smoothing his path to the goodwill of the managers of fairs. It is clear, however, that the spiritual success of this mode f obtaining ministers depends very much on the piety, the insight, ped the honesty of the heads of colleges. We very seldom hear of bese venerable persons recommending a young man to return to a Beular avocation. It is impossible not to believe that such an ste is sometimes desirable, especially since the first admission to ollege is rendered easy by the temptation of reporting the college

be full--by the relaxing demands of councils and committees pd by the hopeful pity which refuses to doubt the professions of be

neophyte. It is plain, also, that not a little turns upon the ersonal qualities of the tutors themselves, the formative spirits of colleges

. Imagination dreams of ideal schools of the prophets," here the sacred studies of the disciples are presided over and inspired an Isaiah, or an Elijah, or a John ; where the surest of all methods influencing general society is in operation--the preparation of a Practive and receptive souls by daily communion with some great und

, incandescent with divine wisdom and grace; where the house stands with the choral songs of young men clothed in the white diment of a pure devotion, and breathing the daily incense of acapted prayer; where the atmosphere glows with the vital warmth God revealing Himself to his ministers, and all, both old and young, Mit like the angels of mercy around that chariot of the cherubim with wheels “ full of eyes," and

full of the Spirit

, on which Jehovah has descended among men. For this lofty ideal we shall of course bak in vain to our

colleges. But we find often something lower than

is even necessary. Deprived of the ennobling influence of an buildings “dim with religious light;" confined in structures w architecture is seldom of the ecclesiastical or decorated style ; ciated generally with a certain number of youths whose souls r glowed with one sublime conception of the ministry of Christ ever will glow,--the youthful“ prophet” finds himself us enlisted into a society almost as merry and as mundane as any could be met with in the secular schools of learning. Young shut up together find it very difficult to be grave, when the too honest to be grim or gloomy. Under such circumstances need some master in Israel to lift them up above themselves, as breathe into them the fire of a godly inspiration. The tutors freq ly, but not always, supply the needed afflatus.

There are whose very names cause many beside the young to wish that could sit often at their footstool to hear their words ; there are some so full of learning in its dryest form, so full of ecclesias prudence, so full of donnishness and of their distinguished posi that it is not easy to see how any young man can grow very or holy under their influence. There are colleges where a through the absence of stringently sectarian regulations, e every facility for growing up into an honest, and devout, and informed student, a faithful, earnest, affectionate teacher of people. There are other institutions where it is the conditi present discipleship, and of ultimate settlement, that a person believe before entrance the whole creed of the college, and of the which supports it; shall continue to believe it during the cur lum ; and shall go forth to "publish it much " at his depar Looked at in a pecuniary point of view, there is nothing unfa these demands ; but regarded morally, it is a system which is to honest inquiry and honest speech. There is, we fear, near much suppression of thought among the students of Dissenting leges as among those of the Establishment; though happily former are not entangled by actual subscription of the sign-man the effect of the whole is, that our ministers are not trained so na to think freshly and honestly on the Scriptures, as to understand defend some theological system laid down by the tutor, or els suppress their convictions. The commonly deplored lack of fi earnestness, and geniality of tone in the preaching of the you ministers is probably to be accounted for from the circumsta just described. No man can preach with all his heart who k back half his mind; and these students are subject to perpe fear of denominational dislocation, if they depart in anything f the faith thus “delivered to the saints." The colleges are gover by committees or councils : these bodies choose the tutors, also choose themselves. Who they are, therefore, is a questioi greater importance than any other that can be asked in the rea


of Nonconformity. It is not a question which we shall answer ; s reply in detail would lead us too far from our general purpose, and into bypaths where nettles would render progress impossible. It is sufficient to say that a reform of the constitution of the governing body of the colleges lies at the very foundation of the reform of Nonconformity; and if this be impossible, it will only remain to desire that the large central colleges should be exchanged for the dll" private academies," where young men are trained to the work God by men who are working that work among the people. When our large churches are formed, with a manifold presbytery, it will often happen that such a presbytery will include men capable of teaching by precept and example every ministerial excellence, while the service of the church will be commenced by the students in the capacity of deacons or assistants, from the very beginning of their career. Urban or rural colleges will thus be scattered through the contry more thickly than at present, where the training will be suitable to the district, and with more spiritual results. A young man in such a college would be "proved” in a way which can DeFer be realized now. Tutors who are actively engaged in pasoral work will seldom be men who forsake sunlight for moonshine, T who provoke needless strife on the grand doctrines of Chris

We must now suppose that the deacons have resolved to write to college. The tutor exercises his discretion in sending down a gentleman “on probation.” It would be a more faithful description say that, if he be a gentleman, he is thereupon sent down to Surgatory. Imagine what must be the condition of any sensitive pang man's soul, preaching on probation--preaching with the eliberate desire of being chosen by that particular congregation to e their minister! The misery suffered during this month's trial

measured by the refinement and piety of the probationer. A ard, versatile, clever young man will soon ascertain the particular art of manifestation required, and will adapt his style to the condituency; but a true prophet of God,” or a prophet's son, will enerally collapse with a feeling of intense disgust at the very approach to a "preaching-match.' The purer and holier the molives of the candidate, the more does he feel baffled, degraded, and underved at being set to preach on purpose to win the votes of the governing majority who are to decide his destiny. Such a man will generally preach his very worst, while the person who is not troubled with delicate scruples will surpass himself in popular disquence.

The decision follows upon the exhibition of the candidate's gifts." Sometimes the churches hear several students in succession, and the miscellaneous array of “church members and seatholders” endeavour to make up their minds which of the probationers they “like best.” This is the consummation of vulgarity


and impertinence ; and no person who is conscious of a divine vocation should submit to be tested in a match of this description. More frequently the congregations come to a determination respecting one candidate before inviting another. The whole business is $0 painful to a gentleman and a scholar, that the deacons usually do their utmost to deprive it of its worst horrors. But nothing can prevent preaching on probation, on the "one-man system, being a time of misery, of impotence, and of conscious self-disgrace to all except the hard-mouthed young people to whom the ministry is a great worldly rise, and who would swallow any quantity of humus as the condition of exercising it.

One considerable evil attending the custom of choosing pastors by preaching-trials of a month's duration, is that the personal character of the candidate may remain almost wholly unknown. If he pleases the generality of the seat-holders—who have to " support the minister”-the “church” will seldom be able to resist the appointment; and, indeed, fine preaching carries the sympathy of the "churches" quite as much as the corporations of “unconverted seat-holders." All things tend towards a love for rhetorical discourse ; and if a man possessed of ordinary testimonials can satisfy this want he may depend upon a very charitable hearing, even among the foremost and most intelligent of nonconforming congregations. The recent cases of “Dr.” and of the Rev. Mr. --- are too gross and too exceptional to be taken as examples of the working of the system in vogue amongst us. They have their parallels in every religious community, and ought not to be reckoned in the statistics of ministerial character. But there is reason to believe that many of our religious societies are too easily led astray by a glib tongue and effervescent or unctuous style, and that there is far too slight a persuasion that pulpit efficiency is not the only or

, indeed, the chief necessary attribute of the pastoral function. Now the existing mode of selecting ministers is unfavourable to that thorough investigation into character, habits, temper, and real capacity which ought to be the main determining considerations in the choice of a pastor. The first requisite for a bishop is that he should be a good man; and it requires a vast amount of knowledge respecting any person to obtain satisfactory evidence that he is a good manmuch more information than can usually be obtained through a tutor's recommendation. The fellow-students could sometimes tell a deal more than the tutor, if they chose. The wonder is not that some apparently unconverted, and certainly many unspiritual men obtain entrance into the ministry, but that so large a majority of indubitably good men, and so very few notoriously bad ones, are found among the pastors of our churches. It is one of the miracles of the

The second mode of obtaining a new minister is by writing to


divine mercy.

« PrécédentContinuer »