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THIRD SERIES- No. XII.
ART. I. Clerical Studies: being the substance of a Dissertation read before an Association of Ministers.
"OUR individuality must operate throughout," says Hamann, "in every period and on every point." The sagacious German's remark applies with much force, under proper limitations, to the choice of studies in mature life. In general, the mind may challenge a large measure of liberty in determining its own present occupations. It follows best its own tact in selecting its own food. Its predilections, tastes, and habits, together with the surrounding circumstances, should often decide its mode of application. Besides, attention, the soul of study, depends on the heart, and we profit most by what we love to pursue.
Yet we all know, that absolute freedom of election is rarely possible to professional students; most rarely to clergymen. In asserting the right of influence which belongs to what is individual in us, we must not overlook what ought to have sway in all that concerns our relation to others. The clergyman has, indeed, like other educated men, personal preferences, acquired tastes and attachments, which do not lose their hold on his mind when he assumes his professional engagements. Some parts of knowledge have more attractiveness than others for him. He has a native turn and a talent for one or more beyond what he has for the rest. Their being clerical 3D S. VOL. IV. NO. III.
does not lend a new charm to pursuits which were else not engaging to him. But, if he be a man whose heart is honest in the sacred work, will he not perceive how just is the demand upon him to let the duties it imposes be paramount to every personal bias? Will he not own it to be seriously important to determine his intellectual avocations, as well as all others, by a regard to his usefulness more than to his inclination and taste? While he is by no means forbidden to resort to those departments of literature, which afford his mind its chosen gratifications, or conduce to the means of his individual culture, yet both by his solemn responsibilities to God and to his charge, and by a truly enlightened concern for his own improvement and happiness, he will feel himself obliged to consult in study the peculiar wants and claims of his profession before all other considerations. May there not be some ground to fear that the reading of clergymen is not enough clerical,-that, besides a too frequent submission of the whole question of mental occupation to the determination of accident or caprice, and an unwarranted neglect of other suggestions than those of present humor or convenience, we are injured by much of the effort we laboriously bestow on not unimportant subjects of inquiry, by their being too remote from, or in a degree hostile to our appropriate professional duties? Be this as it may, no doubt can be entertained as to the expediency of adopting such modes of intellectual employment, as shall regularly minister what is most useful to our indispensable preparation for public instruction and parochial influence.
In a brief discussion like the present, it is only practicable to advert to a few among the numerous particulars which are embraced in a system of professional studies for clergymen. Omitting some of the more obvious, such as the requisite attention to the Bible, and investigation of what may be termed biblical subjects, I shall touch upon one or two that are less in the beaten track, but which seem to promise large returns for the pains we shall devote to them.
Let me specify first what is comprehended under the now common name of Psychology. The very derivation of that name points out to us the fitness of the topics it covers to rank with those which share most largely in the attention of clergymen. The soul is the proper study of them that "watch for souls." Its movements are implicated in all our other studies. It is both instrument and material in our professional
labors. The soul, as it thinks, wills, and is immortal, is next to God the noblest subject of contemplation. To search into its mysteries and to sound its depths has been the work of the most exalted minds. Psychology, in its widest acceptation, includes the wide field of spiritual being. But considered as the science of our own humanity, as making us acquainted with the operations continually going on in the internal world of thought and feeling, it offers enough that we may turn to the best account for all the purposes of usefulness in our calling, and of personal improvement.
How large a part of our professional business lies in the preparation of sermons. This continual authorship is confessedly our most difficult task. It exacts of the faculties their utmost efficiency. The demand for our productions being so incessant, we need above all men to have thoroughly trained minds. But what training can be more adapted to the case than that found in the study of the spiritual nature within us? The subjects of which our discourses treat refer to this nature, not only as being addressed to it for its own benefit, but as being drawn from it, relating to and descriptive of its several affections. We have occasion at all times to represent the facts of consciousness in words that shall make these facts manifest in the consciousness of others. It depends very much upon the thoroughness and accuracy of our acquaintance with the facts themselves, how true shall be our representation of them, and how effective. Mistake me not so far as to suppose my meaning to be, that one must be an adept in metaphysics in order to acquire the power to which I here allude. Many have, by what Degerando terms "moral meditation,' obtained so much insight after long practice into this interior science, as, with little or no knowledge of scholastic forms and nomenclature, to possess the best information which psychology communicates. But the science itself, so truly that of reason, merits the studious investigation of the religious teacher, because it unlocks for him the chambers with whose imagery he must be familiar, whose oracles he must so listen to as to be able to interpret as well as to repeat them. It is, indeed, that self-knowledge in its more profound and extensive meaning, which embodies the wisdom of all philosophers, and is the secret of genuine authorship, and eloquence. From the full fountains of the soul well up the waters of truth, which, imparted through the lip or the pen, are alike welcome to
the thirsty spirit. But we can procure these refreshing streams only by descending to their source, "and the well is deep."
The study of this part of science is commended to us for the sake of the discipline afforded in the pursuit no less than for the acquisitions we may make. The Christian preacher needs to have the power of abstracting himself from what is visible and tangible and earthly habitually in exercise. His vocation lies not in the marts of sense, the highways and byways of a noisy world, in the midst of things seen and temporal. He is called to a communion with the Infinite and Invisible and Eternal, as part of his daily work, not only in solitary places, but in the houses of his people, not only with set time for preparation, but at all times. He must be ready to speak of God to men who forget Him, as one can speak who does not forget Him. He must be in the spirit of prayer all the day long, for he has in charge the interests of souls who rely upon his intercession as their own help in drawing nigh unto God, and their means of consolation in all the emergencies of life. We must show forth the power of a world to come in the world that now is, as only he can hope to do, whose mind is made apt to teach by intimately learning things divine, whose habitual tone of thought is regulated to respond without delay to any heavenly chord. The discipline which shall turn the mind in upon itself, and tend to confine attention to spiritual realities with least aid from outward signs must, as far as any intellectual discipline can, further these important moral ends.
Again; in the study of Psychology one is led to an experienced use of modes of reasoning, and a species of evidence, which often come in requisition in other departments, while the hours spent in its pursuit are rendering the critic more acute and discriminating for his own immediate duties, and the student of history more skilful for the balancing of its testimony, and the interpretation of its lessons. He will analyze language well who has learned to analyze thought. And who so capable of judging the true and false reports of the historical page, as the man deepest read in the tablets of the living heart?
As a clergyman may be supposed always careful to keep up the right influence of our moral feelings and principles, and is in no danger of being suffered to lose sight of society and the
outward world, he may reap all the advantages of this study in its tendency to concentrate the mind upon itself, in opposition to those influences abroad which dissipate and distract its powers, while he escapes the possible inconveniences of abstract inquiry.
There is one indication of the utility of the same study to a theologian, which is not to be overlooked, and which is among the signs of our own times. The scheme of unbelief which has assumed the bold front of open, blasphemous atheism in our metropolis is based, so far as it has any other basis than the worst passions of human nature afford it, upon a tissue of psychological sophistries. It propounds as first principles the most specious falsifications of man's spiritual being. The spirit that is within us, when it utters itself freely, speaks out from the depths of consciousness in its own mother tongue, and proclaims, "The Lord is my portion!" It bears, testimony for God and religion. The voice of pure reason responds to the annunciations of revealed truth; is but revelation in another form. God has left a witness for himself in our whole frame, which may be overlooked, forgotten, contemned,- but not eradicated, not expunged. Were that but read and read aright, impiety would shrink abashed and rebuked; the call of God to his creature would be echoed back by all that is within us, crying, "Bless his holy name."
"The philosophy of man's spiritual nature," as the author of the Tract so entitled rightly judged, contains one of the most effectual antidotes to modern skepticism. If, indeed, we trace the path of intellectual science in conjunction with the history of Christianity, we shall want no stronger evidence than will thus be furnished us, how close is the bond which links the interests of religion to the progress of psychological truth. The solution of every problem in the human nature opens a new space for the access of light and warmth from the divine. The better man learns to know himself, the better he understands the knowledge of God; the more he feels his need of divine support, and his absolute dependence upon his Maker; and the more prepared he is to welcome the pure doctrines of the Christian revelation. In England, France, and Germany, unbelief in its vicious forms has kept company with the worst systems of mental and moral philosophy. Men were never made ashamed of their religion, until they had most reason to be ashamed of themselves. It is so now and in our own