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more paradisiacal. So is it with a true minister of God's word; he makes the home-truths of the gospel, which are the organs of salvation, more and more beautiful and attractive; he does not lead the soul far away for food, but makes nearest pastures greenest, and still-waters sweetest as well as safest.
And this illustrates as well the wise philosophy of a living ministry. It is not the mechanical repetition of the same doctrines, in the same stereotyped forms of sound words; a book and a reader could do this. But the ministry of God's word, that preaching, by which it pleases God to save them that believe, is the presentation of the truth, through the liv. ing forms of the speaker's convictions and experiences. “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” said Paul. The inental and spiritual life of the preacher is the medium through which his life is imparted to the hearer. A man must strike out the truth for himself, try it for himself, approve it and prove it too, before he is qualified to minister it effectually to others. Just as our Lord began his ministry by the preparation of the wilderness, and the temptation of the wilderness, so all his commissioned apostles in every age have had a like experience, to fit them for a successful ministry. If the master himself had need be tempted in all points, as we are, to be a sympathizing high-priest for us, much more do we need the training of doubt, and searching for the truth, and the joyous finding, to fit us to minister that truth efficaciously to our fellows. This is the ministry God has ordained ; not the cold, abstract proclamation, ljut the heralding of a blessed discovery. Accordingly they are the most successful ministers, whose experience has been deepest, and who can testify by what they have seen and felt, to the value of the Gospel. Even those whose views are most incomplete through ignorance, nay, and false even through misdirection of fervid natures, even they have ininistered more of truth and of the grace of God, than the most learned and the most orthodox divines, who have not had a like experience of suffering and of release.
There is in our day a great deal of sceptical thinking, not alone upon the frame-work of revealed religion, but as well upon the deep foundations of all religion, the being of God,
the reality of a moral government, the existence of a spiritual nature, and a hereafter. The late revival of religion will, no doubt, be followed by a fresh development and intensification of this sceptical tendency. The conflict between rationalism and supernaturalism, so far from being laid, is spreading wider, and touching deeper fountains of life. Robertson's ministry is one of the most significant signs of the times. It is the offspring of the spirit of the age; it would have been an impossibility in a believing age; and even a greater impossibility in an age of sensuous and infidel philosophy. It is an attempt to bridge over the awful chasm that separates so many thinking and earnest minds from Christianity. It is an attempt to transfuse reason with faith, to show that at the root of all reason lies the want of revelation, and the end of all reasoning brings to the borders of faith. Some Christians would charge his discourses with rationalism and we must confess with too much reason in some cases, -and yet it is rationalism, baptized with a Christian spirit, everywhere interfused with reverence for God and love to man. The days of a cold sneering infidelity are over. The next assault upon Christianity, for which the forces are even now mustering, is to be in the name of a purer spiritualism, and a wider philanthropy,—not a mere unbelief, but a positive disbelief, which shall pity Christians as a later sect of Jews, who, blinded by superstition, do not recognize the last and best advent,--an infidelity of reforms and missions. Now we know of no sermons, better calculated than Robertson's, to lodge a seminal Christianity in minds drifting towards rationalism, thoughtful, earnest, yet free. Many a doubter will wonder to see his secret doubts adopted by Robertson, perhaps intensified and interwreathed with others, yet deeper and more painful than he has reached, and under his hands, putting on a new aspect, leading by a new way to the cross, and in the end pledging him, at the peril of inconsistency and self-denial, to accept of the Gospel. It may be that the Gospel, to which he thus leads the doubter, we would not accept as possessing all the features of our most venerable creeds, but it would be bigotry indeed, to deny that if the sceptic should accept it,
he would be a doubter no longer, but a believer humbled and transformed.
It is at once the beauty and power of these sermons, that they take a Christian doctrine, and evoke responses to it from nature and providence, from the secret consciousness of the human heart, and from that wider human experience which is the voice of history. It is a great achievement for a preacher to lay open the hearer's soul, and bring ont & want which nothing can satisfy but the Gospel, to interpret to him his own feelings and history, and make him see why and towards what he has been led thus. There is a demonstration of the truth of religion in this, to which nothing can be added, and in which the soul rests with a satisfying faith. Nothing so thoroughly establishes the mind in the belief of the Gospel, as to discover some interior and unexpected bond of union between the word and the work of God, and they preach most directly to human conviction who exhibit this harmony and unity. In this respect particularly are all science, and learning, and experience tributary to the preacher's work. A truth of scripture will sometimes stand out to a man's thought in bald isolation, or worse, in evident opposition to others he cannot but hold sacred; but the discovery of some other truth shall be a bond of connexion, and reveal the unity of the whole. Robertson not unfrequently brings some fact of science, or some common feeling of humanity, to illustrate a scriptural declaration, and ever after a new truth shines for us in heaven, as fixed as a star.
We should call Robertson an original thinker; and with regard to this attribute of originality we apprehend there are misapprehensions in two opposite extremes. It is not necessary in establishing a man's claim to this distinction, to prove that no man ever had the like or the same thought. It would be impossible to establish this negative. It is astonishing how much the research of human learning has done to trace back the genealogy of ideas throngh generations that preceded the supposed date of their establishment. Even our Lord's most characteristic and precious sayings have thus been ante-dated. The Golden Rule has its shadows and prophesies in the sayings of earlier moralists. The Mosaic Institutes are traceable among Egyptian customs. The Christian Church had its model in the Jewish Synagogue. Scarcely a discovery in science or an invention in the arts can be ascribed to a single man, as sole discoverer or inventor. It is notorious that reputed originators of great improvements spend their days contending for their right to their honors. Americus gave name to this continent as its rightful discoverer, but Columbus led the way, and had a better right to give name to the new world, and long before either, the Northmen are claimed to have made the discovery, and given a still more legitimate name. The invention of the steam-engine, of the telegraph, of anesthetic agents, are divided honors. Should the open
Should the open Polar sea prove a fact, and so a discovery, Kane and Morton would have competitors; and there are already rumors that it has been seen from the northern latitudes of the Eastern continent. Scarcely has the world done wondering at the announcement of some unlooked for and scarcely credited truth, before proclamation is made that it was known long before, and frequently made use of in some successful experiments. The truth is that all discoveries and inventions are the fruit of past ages, and belong to a generation rather than to an individual. No great thought comes into the world, without giving tokens of its nearer approach to many watching and believing minds, and when at last it is published, it takes not all men by surprise; perhaps the truth is recognized simultaneously in different countries, and where all are equally independent, and so meritorious, priority of discovery is to be determined by an appeal to hours and minutes. If the light of a comet has reached our solar system, and its pale rays have become distinguishable on earth, the time has come for the discovery, and among the hundred telescopes that are nightly sweeping the skies, peradadventure two or three are simultaneusly arrested, and point with trembling anxiety to the same spot in the saine constellation, and then goes up at the same moment, the glad Eureka, from observatories in Italy, England, and America. It is absurd for a man to detach himself from his generation, and think he can achieve anything apart from it, or dislocate his honors from it; we think the thought of our time, we do the work of our age, generations catch the shuttle sped from one to the other, and history is a figure which consecutive ages are weaving, and to the beauty of which each in its place has actually, if not equally, ministered.
A man's originality, therefore, is not the self-suggested and self-sustained agency of an insulated individual; but it is a dependent and interweaved action, only it is a living growth, not a dead repetition. That man is an original thinker, who takes the eternal verities, which are the food of man's thought for the ages, and adapts them, in the mold of his own mind for the men with whom he sympathizes, and for whom he thinks and speaks; and his originality is not contradicted nor even abridged by the fact that the truth he presents is the gift of God, and the common inheritance of man. As the matter, with which all life, animal and vegetable, is clothed, rotates in endless circuits of influx and efflux, and the juices, substances, and gases are the same, but no individual life, clothed upon, ever presents the same aspect, so it is in the reproduction of God's eternal truth, it is susceptible of endless expressions and adaptations, and although it be for substance the same that fell from apostolic lips, and that kept alive the medieval Church, it is new, and fresh, and original, as it distills in instruction from every pulpit in Christendom, which is occupied by a living Christian man.
In this sense Robertson was a true thinker, doing his own work, for his own age; and many are the minds, that blessed him while living, and more are blessing him to-day, for a ministry, which has presented to them the Gospel, through an experience, and in forms, that make it a life and a joy in their hearts.
This trait of deep and earnest thinking has also a most vital connexion with success in extempore preaching. There is no better preparation for it, than to rise before an audience, with a mind filled with thought, which to the speaker is of vital importance to each one of his hearers. The best style is that which is born with the thought, and with which a burning soul clothes it, in the endeavor to communicate it. Some