(this is an excerpt from GMs work of fiction; The Seaboard Parish, regarding a recent drowning in the town)
“You had a sad business here the last week, sir,” he said, after we had done talking about the repairs.
“A very sad business indeed,” I answered.
“It was a warning to us all,” he said.
“We may well take it so,” I returned. “But it seems to me that we are too ready to think of such remarkable things only by themselves, instead of being roused by them to regard everything, common and uncommon, as ordered by the same care and wisdom.”
“One of our local preachers made a grand use of it.”
I made no reply. He resumed.
“They tell me you took no notice of it last Sunday, sir.”
“I made no immediate allusion to it, certainly. But I preached under the influence of it. And I thought it better that those who could reflect on the matter should be thus led to think for themselves than that they should be subjected to the reception of my thoughts and feelings about it; for in the main it is life and not death that we have to preach.”
“I don’t quite understand you, sir. But then you don’t care much for preaching in your church.”
“I confess,” I answered, “that there has been much indifference on that point. I could, however, mention to you many and grand exceptions. Still there is, even in some of the best in the church, a great amount of
disbelief in the efficacy of preaching. And I allow that a great deal of what is called preaching, partakes of its nature only in the remotest degree. But, while I hold a strong opinion of its value–that is, where it is genuine–I venture just to suggest that the nature of the preaching to which the body you belong to has resorted, has had something to do, by way of a reaction, in driving the church to the other extreme.”
“How do you mean that, sir?”
“You try to work upon people’s feelings without reference to their judgment. Anyone who can preach what you call rousing sermons is considered a grand preacher amongst you, and there is a great danger of his being led thereby to talk more nonsense than sense. And then when the excitement goes off, there is no seed left in the soil to grow in peace, and they are always craving after more excitement.”
“Well, there is the preacher to rouse them up again.”
“And the consequence is that they continue like children–the good ones, I mean–and have hardly a chance of making a calm, deliberate choice of that which is good; while those who have been only excited and nothing more, are hardened and seared by the recurrence of such feeling as is neither aroused by truth nor followed by action.”
“You daren’t talk like that if you knew the kind of people in this country that the Methodists, as you call them, have got a hold of. They tell me it was like hell itself down in those mines before Wesley come among them.”
“I should be a fool or a bigot to doubt that the Wesleyans have done incalculable good in the country. And that not alone to the people who never went to church. The whole Church of England is under obligations to Methodism such as no words can overstate.”
“I wonder you can say such things against them, then.”
“Now there you show the evil of thinking too much about the party you belong to. It makes a man touchy; and then he fancies when another is merely, it may be, analysing a difference, or insisting strongly on some great truth, that he is talking against his party.”
“But you said, sir, that our clergy don’t care about moving our judgments, only our feelings. Now I know preachers amongst us of whom that would be anything but true.”
“Of course there must be. But there is what I say–your party-feeling makes you touchy. A man can’t always be saying in the press of utterance, ‘_Of course there are exceptions_.’ That is understood. I confess I do not know
much about your clergy, for I have not had the opportunity. But I do know this, that some of the best and most liberal people I have ever known have belonged to your community.”
“They do gather a deal of money for good purposes.”
“Yes. But that was not what I meant by _liberal_. It is far easier to give money than to be generous in judgment. I meant by _liberal_, able to see the good and true in people that differ from you–glad to be roused to the reception of truth in God’s name from whatever quarter it may come, and not readily finding offence where a remark may have chanced to be too sweeping or unguarded. But I see that I ought to be more careful, for I have made you, who certainly are not one of the quarrelsome people I have been speaking of, misunderstand me.”