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THE

CHRISTIAN EXAMINER.

Vol. V.-No. II.

MARCH AND APRIL, 1828.

MISCELLANY.

ON CLERICAL DUTIES; AND PARTICULARLY ON SOME MISAP

PREHENSIONS OF THEIR IMPORTANCE.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE CHRISTIAN EXAMINER.

Sir,—The anniversary of my ordination has again drawn my attention to the subject of clerical duties; and if you are not weary of the subject, and can answer as much for your readers, I shall beg leave again to occupy a few of your pages, with my reflections upon it. You will agree with me, I think, that no subject can be more practical. For if the ministry of the gospel is designed to exert any influence, it must exert that influence very much through the views that are entertained of its duties; it must especially in this country, where the mass of the people are withdrawing the blind reverence, which has formerly been paid to the ministry, and are instituting a very strict inquiry into its offices and labors. Since, therefore, these duties are not only matters of common interest, but of constant discussion, a clergyman certainly will not subject himself to the charge of egotism, by bringing forward, and endeavouring again and again to present, just and useful views of them.

Let me, then, beg permission of your readers to recall to their attention some of the views which I have stated to them in former cornmunications.

munications. I have pointed out some misapprehensions of the connexion between the clergy and people; and particularly that of regarding their interests and objects as dis

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VOL. V.--NO. II.

tinct and different. As the connexion is, in fact, one of common interest; as there is, truly, a mutual and a mutually useful compact between the parties, I have protested against the injurious charge, and I must say, in this country, the absurd charge of a mercenary spirit' in the clergy. I have maintained, also, that in the community of interests which exists in this relation, clergymen should be less thought of personally, and that their usefulness should be more regarded ; that they should be less thought of as favorite, or disagreeable preachers; that there should be less anxiety about their preaching what are called • fine sermons,' that is, sermons creditable to themselves; in short, that less regard should be had to the man, and more to the malter. I am sorry, sir, to observe how little the public taste indicates of the feeling of reality about religion. For I do not find that where property is at stake, as in our courts of justice, or where a real interest of the cominunity is involved, as in legislation - I do not find, I say, that there is such an anxiety to have fine speeches there ; nor is there such a perpetual demand made, in those cases, to be delighted or aroused. No; people are already aroused and awakened, in such circumstances; and what they want, is, to be informed, to have clear and substantial convictions impressed upon their minds, to have something said upon which they can act. Pretty commonplaces do not suffice for them ; nor original thoughts, fit only to be admired. It does not satisfy them, that they have had a fine speech, if they have gained no new conviction or impression from it. In short they are thinking more of the matter, and less of the man. I have also said, that it would be a great benefit, if our religious services possessed more of this deliberative character, more of the character of a meditation ; if our preachers were considered as speaking more from the sense of real and common interests; if they were considered less as fulfilling an assigned part in some artificial arrangement between them and the people, and more as taking part with them, in the common interests, fears, and sorrows of human life.

The next subject connected with the ministry, to which I have invited the attention of your readers, is that of clerical labors. I have shown that, from the demands of the age, these labors are unusually great, and that in the Unitarian body, from its relative situation, and also from the state of mind prevailing in it, these demands are greater than anywhere else; that they are, in fact, unexampled in the whole history of the sacred office. And from this fact, and from the actually declining health of an unexampled proportion of our clergy, I have derived an argument for a candid consideration of their labors.

I am, now, sir, about to enter a little more into the interior of clerical duties; or, to speak more exactly, I am about to enter into some consideration of the views which are commonly entertained of them. And adhering still to my plan of teaching the true, by pointing out the erroneous views, I intend to dwell upon what I conceive to be some misapprehensions of these duties, and, I will add, of the whole conduct of a clergyman; to dwell, I might say, upon a single misapprehension; for I believe that the old maxim of one thing at a time,' is as useful in morals as in business.

1 say, then, that there is a factitious importance ascribed to the official duties and to the whole conduct of a clergyman. I say, that in certain respects, too much is made of what he does, whether officially or otherwise. Justly considered, I do not think his duties are overrated; I do not think they well can be. But there is an unnatural importance, an artificial value ascribed to them. They occupy a place in the means of religion, which they were never intended to occupy; not a greater place, properly speaking, but a different place, and it is in this false position, that they are greatly and injuriously overrated. The people take them to be of more consequence than they are ; not absolutely, but relatively of more consequence. They conceive that the clerical duties, on the bare performance, are more to them, than they actually are ; more, because they are official acts, and more than any merely official acts can be in the intimate and spiritual concerns of religion.

If my meaning is not fully taken, I trust it will be made plain, by a few remarks on the different portions of a clergyman's duty and conduct.

And first, let us look at the public department, at the offices which he sustains in public worship. It is the duty of the minister to pray. Now, I say, that the importance of this duty, in a just view of it, can scarcely be overestimated. If he offers the servent prayer; if the whole congregation unites with him ; if all their hearts in this thing are as the heart of one man ; if devoted prayer ascends from the whole assembly as the incense of old, how beautiful is the offering ! how excellent is the sacrifice! and how high and blessed is the office of leading such devotions as these! But I cannot resist the conviction, that to the eye of the heart searching God, such a spectacle of united and entire devotion is seldom or never presented in our sanctuaries. There are too many, who, with minds negligent and wandering, seem to expect that the prayer of the clergyman will pass to their account, whether they take any part in it or not. And is

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there not, in fact, some delusion of this nature ?--for to this point my observations tend. It is the duty of the minister to pray ; that is his business; that is the part assigned to him. Now it is, in truth, just as much the duty of every other individual who enters the sanctuary, to pray. But does every individual feel this? Or does he not the less feel it, or does he not the less feel his deficiency, because the solemn formality of prayer is used by another? Suppose that, according to the custom of our congregations, there were no audible prayer, but only a space given for every one to make his silent offerings; or suppose that the clergyman might occasionally take this libertyand who has not, at times, so felt the overpowering sense of a present Divinity, that he would fain, when he rose to prayer, have kneeled down in silence and worshipped ? In either of these cases, I say, would not many be shaken from that vague reliance, which they now feel, on the prayers of their minister? Would they not be aroused themselves to pray? Or, if not so aroused, would they not at least distinctly feel, that they had had no part nor lot in this service? Would they not feel that it had been nothing to them whatever, or nothing but a reproach on their lukewarm and worldly minds? But now, they say, the case being as it is, “We have been at church'-We have attended divine service'-'We have had prayers.' They feel that they have been embraced in the visible solemnities of devotion; they feel as if they had taken part in public worship, and as if the prayers which they have only heard, were prayers that they had offered. They say, “We have been at church,' when, so far as real devotion is concerned, they might as well have been anywhere else; We have attended divine service, but they have not attended to it; “We have had prayers, but they have made no prayers.

This, then, is one of the respects in which a factitious importance is given to the duties of a clergyman; in which his acts pass, not for more than they are intrinsically worth, but for infinitely more than they are worth to him who considers them as a kind of substitute for his own acts. And how lamentable is it! His wants, his infirmities, his dangers are as great and pressing as those of any other man. His soul is perishing for lack of heavenly food, and it is perishing in the midst of a feast. Yes, and he acts as absurdly as would that man, who should consider it sufficient to assuage his own hunger, that the master of the feast partook.

Let us pass, now, to another part of the public services of religion. It is the duty of the clergyman to preach ; but not a

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whit more than it is the duty of others to hear; not a whit more than it is the duty of others to profit by his preaching. Yet there are many who never seriously think of being profited—who never think of going to church for that purpose ; and there are some who regularly take their place in church only to resign themselves to sleep'; and there are some who do better than that, it must be confessed—who stay away from church half of the time, without any good reason for their absence. But would these persons have the institution of public worship generally neglected, or dishonored, or misimproved, in this manner? By no means ; by no means whatever. Why—what!' they will say, no public worship? no preaching? no sabbath? 'It would be dreadful. We should feel as if we were scarcely Christians, if it were so. We should be no better than Heathens.' And what is it, I pray, that makes these persons, those who neglect public worship just when it suits their indolence or their love of indulgence, and those who hear the word, but never profit by it—what is it that makes them Christians in their own account? what is it that makes them easier in mind, under their neglects and deficiencies? what is it that saves them from being 'Heathens?' a word which their superficial and mechanical notions of religion have contrived to render odious. Why, it is, that there are a priesthood and a sabbath; that there are preaching and public worship. I say, then, are not the public functions of a clergyman exalted into an artificial consequence? Are they not made to occupy a place in such men's religion, which they never ought to occupy? Are such negligent 'hearers of the word 'just before God! No; but the doers of the word shall be justified.' Are those who 'hear the word, but do not,' any better for hearing ? No better; and it may be that they are worse ; it is probable that they are more guilty. And yet they imagine themselves to be better and safer, because they are hearers. They are like those of whom it is represented, that they shall say, Lord, Lord, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets ;' but of whom the Lord shall say, "I know you not; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity-ye hearers, but not doers of the word; ye hearers of the righteous law, but ye workers of unrighteous deeds.

But it will be said, Mr Editor, · Had not these persons better go to church nevertheless, and is it not best that they should hear, at any rate?' That, sir, is not the point. Admit, that it is best, that they should continue their attendance. How much better would it be, that they should attend with just views !

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