« PreviousContinue »
DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE CLERICAL CHARACTER
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE,
GREAT ST. MARY'S CHURCH,
ON SUNDAY, JULY 5,
BEING COMMENCEMENT SUNDAY.
DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE CLERICAL CHARACTER
1 CORINTHIANS, ix. part of the 27th verse.
Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others
I myself should be a castaway. THESE words discover the anxiety, not to say the fears, of the writer, concerning the event of his personal salvation : and, when interpreted by the words which precede them, strictly connect that event with the purity of his personal character.
It is extremely material to remember who it was that felt this deep solicitude for the fate of his spiritual interests, and the persuasion that his acceptance (in so far as it is procured by human endeavours) would depend upon the care and exactness with which he regulated his own passions and his own conduct: because, if a man ever existed who, in the Zeal and labour with which he served the cause of religion, in the ardour or the efficacy of his preaching, in his sufferings or his success, might hope for some excuse to indulgence, some licence for gratifications which were forbidden to others, it was the author of the text which has been now read to you. Yet the apostle appears to have known, and by his knowledge teaches us, that no exertion of industry, no display of talents, no public merit, however great, or however good or sacred be the cause in which it is acquired,
will compensate for the neglect of personal self-government.
This, in my opinion, is an important lesson to all : to none, certainly, can it be more applicable than it is in every age to the teachers of religion ; for a little observation of the world must have informed us that the human mind is prone, almost beyond resistance, to sink 'the weakness or the irregularities of private character in the view of public services; that this propensity is the strongest in a man's own case ; that it prevails more powerfully in religion than in other subjects, inasmuch as the teachers of religion consider themselves (and rightly do so) as ministering to the higher interests of human existence.
Still, farther, if there be causes, as I believe there are, which raise extraordinary difficulties in the way of those who are engaged in the offices of religion ; circumstances even of disadvantage in the profession and character, as far as relates to the conservation of their own virtue: it behoves them to adopt the apostle's caution with more than common care, because it is only to prepare themselves for dangers to which they are more than commonly exposed.
Nor is there good reason for concealing, either from themselves or others, any unfavourable dispositions which the nature of our employment or situation may tend to generate: for, be they what they will, they only prove that it happens to us according to the condition of human life, with many benefits to receive some inconveniences ; with many helps to experience some trials : that, with many peculiar motives to virtue, and means of improvement in it, some obstacles are presented to our progress, which it may require a distinct and positive effort of the mind to surmount.
I apprehend that I am stating a cause of no inconsiderable importance, when, amongst these impediments, I mention, in the first place, the insensibility to religious impression which a constant conversation with religious subjects, and, still more, a constant intermixture with religious offices, is wont to induce. Such is the frame of the human constitution (and calculated also for the wisest purposes) that, whilst all active habits are facilitated and strengthened by repetition, impressions under which we are passive are weakened and diminished. Upon the first of these properties depends, in a great measure, the exercise of the arts of life: upon the second, the capacity which the mind possesses of adapting itself to almost every situation. This quality is perceived in numerous, and for the most part beneficial, examples. Scenes of terror, spectacles of pain, objects of loathing and disgust, so far lose their effect with their novelty as to permit professions to be carried on, and conditions of life to be endured, which otherwise, although necessary, would be insupportable. It is a quality, however, which acts, as other parts of our frame do, by an operation which is general : hence it acts also in instances in which its influence is to be corrected ; and, amongst these, in religion. Every
l attentive Christian will have observed how much more powerfully he is affected by any form of worship which is uncommon than with the familiar returns of his own religious offices. He will be sensible of the difference when he approaches, a few times in the year, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; if he should be present at the visitation of the sick; or even, if that were unusual to him, at the sight of a family assembled in prayer. He will perceive it also upon entering the doors of a dissenting congregation; a circumstance which has misled many, by causing them to ascribe to some advantage in the conduct of