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returning to it in his formal, public teaching, but will rather be led to apply the other theory more consistently. If any one fears to lose his authority, or to weaken that of the holy book, by claiming a perfection less than absolute for the text book of our religion,-he ought to remind himself, it seems to us, that there is far more probability of his destroying his own influence and the power of religion, either by preaching a theory which the intelligent part of his hearers will instantly reject, or by coolly taking such a theory for granted, in all practical ways, while formally rejecting it.


VARIOUS circumstances have combined, within a few years, to bring the subject of Lay-Preaching into special prominence, and to work something like a revolution in public sentiment with respect to it. Prejudice has gradually yielded to reason, and facts have opened such a broadside to false theories as to shatter and sink them. This effect is more noticeable, perhaps, among Congregationalists and Preshyterians, in this country, than among other denominations of Christians; for these ever insisting on preaching as the prominent function of the ministry, in distinction from the sacerdotal conception of it as occupied chiefly about “the altar” in celebrating the sacraments, have been jealous of practices which might seem to lower its qualifications, or to undervalue its work. One need revert to the ideas and customs of a time not farther back than twenty or thirty years, to find a frown upou the ecclesiastical face at the bare mention of lay-preaching, while its practice was sure to call down explicit censure.

A leading Presbytery in the State of New York, in 1840, took condemnatory action, when one of its pastors invited a young man to preach for him, wbo was studying for the ministry, had passed through college, and had completed one year in the theological seminary, but had not been formally licensed ; and though his labors, at the instance of the pastor in question, had led by God's blessing to the most interesting revival of religion which that church had known for many years. This did not argue any special bigotry on the part of that Presbytery; it did but follow the example of the General Assembly, which as far back as 1710, placed this action upon the Minutes : “Upon information that David Evan, a lay person, had taken upon him publicly to teach or preach among the Welsh in the Great Valley, Chester Co., it was unanimously agreed, that the said Evan had done very ill, and acted irregularly, in thus invading the work of the ministry, and (he) was thereupon censured." Similar condemnation was expressed in another case, that of Mr. McCalla, by the Assembly, in 1821. The prevalence of this opinion in both of the denominations mentioned may be seen from the fact that, until within a very few years, the students in their theological seminaries have usually been forbidden to preach until near the close of their course; even during the vacations, when it could not interfere with their studies, might aid their finances, might afford them useful

prac. tice, and might be helpful to pastorless churches and unevangelized neighborhoods. So tenacious is theory ; so tyranical is prescriptive custom! As many minds are not yet clear upon the subject, it may be useful to consider the right and duty of lay-preaching, its dangers, and its appropriate sphere.

I. The right and duty of lay-preaching.The right and the duty may be said to go together; for, under the Christian law of love, what a man may rightfully do to promote the interests of religion, he is bound to do. Within the limitations which God has fixed by nature and Scripture, he should make his influence felt in every possible way for the promotion of holiness in this sinful world. In forming a judgment as to lay-preaching let us inquire, then, in to the nature of the case, into the teaching of Scripture, into the history of opinion, and into practical results.

What valid reason can be given why a layman should not preach, according to his ability and opportunity ? Religion must be diffused by words and by deeds; by teacbing and by living. There would seem to be a place for lay-influence in both of these respects. Laymen must lead a holy life, and they must consecrate their speech to Christ. And if their private conversation may aid religion, why may not their public discourse, such as they use with notable effect in connection with secular topics? The highest influence of woman, indeed, may require a certain degree of privacy and modesty in her labors; but it is otherwise with man, who is made for public life. Why, then, should he shrink back, or be forced back, into a woman's sphere, any more than she should be pushed forward into a man's sphere?

Perhaps it will be said, that preaching should be limited to ministers, on the same principle which limits the practice of law to lawyers, and of medicine to physicians. But that principle only partially applies in this case, and at most is not entirely restrictive. Law and medicine, so far as they are restricted, deal with difficult matters which require much techni. cal knowledge and professional training, to handle them wisely and safely. But religion, in its most important bearings, has to do with the simpler truths and with personal testimony. Allow that a professional minister may be required to discuss difficult theological, exegetical, and ecclesiastical questions; what is there beyond the reach of ordinarily intelligent laymen, in the explanation and enforcement of the Christian doctrines which have to do with repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? The words of Scripture on such points are not obscure, and it has been a characteristic tenet of Protestantism, that it was safe to place the Bible in the hands of every one who could read it; the way of salvation being so plainly pointed out in its pages that mistake was scarcely conceivable. If this be so, a man of little learning might usefully repeat its truths to others, reading and applying its searching words, and adding a corroboration from his own experience. Thus the teaching of religion is largely parallel to that general common sense advice which every intelligent man is continually giving as to matters of law and government, of health and disease. One may not be qualified to practice in the courts, and to manage technical details of legal procedure, and yet may be abundantly qualified to manage private business so as to avoid legal difficulties, to direct a neighbor as to the best course to pursue in many of life's emergencies, and to enter into politics as one entitled to speak and to vote upon questions of legislation. And so one may shrink from the grave responsibilities of a physician, and yet be qualified, as a father, to care for the general health of his family, or, as a friend, to caution his acquaintances against habits which generate disease.

Moreover, in religious affairs, an approximation to preaching has long been sanctioned, in the exhortations of our prayermeetings, where laymen are accustomed to speak freely, touching now upon doctrinal and then upon practical topics, quoting, explaining, and applying Scripture; and that in the absence as well as in the presence of ministers ; laymen, indeed, frequently conducting the exercises. And then we must not forget, that in these days of general educational facilities, a large proportion of the laity are more intelligent than in some ages the body of the clergy were, on religious as well as on other subjects; while in every community will be found laymen of liberal education, who, as lawyers, physicians, editors, authors, artists, engineers, teachers, legislators, and merchants, are leading men, and fitted to exert a wide-spread Christian influence. Why such men should be silent, or should be restricted to the narrowest limits of speech, in advocating the cause of Christ, is not very evident from the nature of the case.

Such a rule accords, so far as we can see, neither with their spirit as Christians, nor with their ability and opportunity as

Love to God as their Heavenly Father, gratitude to Christ as their Saviour, and compassion for their fellow-inen as needing to know and accept the gospel, would naturally prompt those who have had experience of the gospel-salvation to make it known as far as possible. If then a man has gifts of thought and expression, which enable him to influence others in the affairs of ordinary life, why should he not employ these with corresponding freedom in the realm of religion ? And the pressure of duty or the feeling of privilege would seem naturally to increase, in proportion to the manifest need of employing such an agency. This need is scarcely to be overrated. When we think of the slow progress of the gospel, even in nominally Christian lands; when we call to mind the masses of the population who never come to the house of God, and are indifferent to religion and prejudiced against its ministers, and who must consequently be sought out in their homes and haunts, and have the gospel preached to them in the places where they congregate, by persons of whom they will not be suspicious as acting a professional part; there would appear to be a wide door of usefulness open to earnest and intelligent lay-preachers. In numbers these might quadruple the regular clergy, while for specific effect in reaching the common people for evangelistic purposes, they would have great advantage.

If now we enquire after the teaching of Scripture, to ascer. tain whether it reveals limitations divinely appointed, to the duty under consideration, we are immediately confronted with the fact, that it nowhere recognizes in the Christian church the distinction of clergy and laity, as of distinct orders, to the former of whom alone were committed, as sacred funcVOL. XXXV.


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