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[PREACHED IN HENLEY CHURCH, JUNE 6, 1855, AT THE
VEN. THE ARCHDEACON'S VISITATION.]
2 TIM. iv. 2.
« Preach the word.”
TAOSE of you, my reverend brethren, who have filled the office assigned to me to-day, know it to be one of no small embarrassment. There is always a difficulty in addressing for the first time a new congregation, but that difficulty is greatly increased when the preacher, as must happen at a Visitation, is conscious of the presence of many among his hearers, older and abler than himself. Before such an audience the usual topics of a sermon fail. Words of exhortation, words of instruction, words of rebuke and admonition, seem to demand that he who utters them should be at least on a level with his hearers, and not below them in many of those chief qualities that fit one minister for addressing another.
I feel this so strongly, that, were it not for the authority which has placed me here, I would gladly have declined the responsible task that devolves upon me this morning.
But, seeing this cannot now be, I desire at your hands that indulgence which is always given when it is sought, and which can seldom be more needed than it is at present. I would ask also, that my remarks may be taken as they are made, in a true
a spirit of brotherly kindness—that you would believe, even where you differ on particular points, that I have but this object in view—an object
which I am sure any of you occupying my place to-day, would equally hold before him; viz. to keep apart from questions which may gender strife, and to speak words only which are of use to edify, and to our advancement in some plain duty connected with the work of our ministry.
The subject which I propose to bring before you, and in dealing with which I shall endeavour to keep this aim in view, is, as the text would indicatePreaching. It is a large subject, and one that, to be thoroughly handled, would require a treatise rather than a sermon. I can touch only a portion of it. But I shall be content, if from what I say I am able to draw your attention to the matter; and to lead, if it were but a single fellow-clergyman, to a just sense of the importance of preaching; and of
its value as an instrument for effecting the great end of our ministry, the salvation of man's immortal soul.
And when I say this — when I call preaching an important instrument for the work of the ministry, might I not say more? Might I not call it the most important—the one that holds the highest place in the Divine economy—God's ordinance for evangelizing the world—the means which He employs more than any other for making known His saving health: for bringing men to the knowledge of His truth, and thereby to peace and happiness ?
For suffer me, for a moment, to remind you, reverend brethren, though ye know this, of what preaching hath already wrought in the days that were before us. It was by preaching that the thousands who listened to St. Peter at the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, were drawn away from Judaism and added to the Christian Church. It was by the same “foolishness of preaching," as he disparagingly calls it, that St. Paul won to Christ so many converts both in Asia and in Europe. It was by preaching that the Barbarian conquerors of Italy and their savage soldiery were themselves, in turn, taken captive, taught to put off their wild nature, and tamed into obedience to the law of Christ. It was by preaching at a later day, that Luther burst the bonds of Rome, and cast away her cords from us. And later on still, almost in our own time, it was by this same means that the dying embers of spiritual Christianity were wakened up in England; and to Wesley and Whitfield, preaching Christ's Gospel, a great “ door and effectual was opened of the Lord !”
With these facts before us, and I might confirm them, as you well know, by many more--many other like testimonies from Church history—it is impossible to over-rate the importance of preaching as an ordinance of God—as something overruled by Him for purposes of the highest moment to the interests of mankind.
And yet, brethren, the time has been when preaching has been decried when it has been invidiously compared with the liturgical part of our English service. And even now, when this feeling is passed, when we are all coming more to an agreement as to its importance, there yet are many obstacles to a high standard of preaching attainment amongst us. The chief of these, as it seems to me, are, want of previous training before our admission into the ministry, and want of leisure afterwards. So much is now expected from the clergyman. He has so many calls upon his time. His hands are so full of other men's matters. He is so occupied in the out-of-door service of pastoral labours, in visiting the sick, in superintending schools, and the like, that it is not to be wondered at if he fail in finding those calm hours of solitude and study, without which there can be no sufficient preparation for the pulpit. And yet, it is to be regretted if he does not. It is a mistake, surely, in the crowd of many claims to omit the weightiest claim of all. And this, I maintain, ought always to be with us the first thing considered, in the scale of ministerial duties, how we shall best preach the Gospel — how we shall discharge ourselves of that foremost responsibility which rests upon us since the day of our ordination : since the day when the Bible was delivered into our hand by the Bishop, and this solemn injunction impressed severally upon us-“Take thou authority to preach the word of God.”
And this leads me to the main point of my subject—the matter of our preaching. What this should be is told us in the text-" Preach the word.”
By " the word,” we may understand in its largest sense, the Bible--all that God has caused to be written— the whole inspired volume of Scripture. This contains the whole counsel of God. Here, and here only, must we look for the matter of our preaching. Nothing out of the Bible must we bring before our flocks as God's word. From it, and from it alone, must we derive doctrine, and enforce its acceptance as of necessity to eternal salvation.