A GRADUATE of Harvard University of some legal celebrity, addressing a deliberative assembly not long since, whilst urging the necessity of a sort of missionary bishop for the diocese of Massachusetts, made the declaration that the young men at Cambridge needed rousing up to serious religious thought, or they would be in danger of lapsing into rationalism and infidelity. Living in a country in which man is allowed to embrace such views as his conscience approves, it appeared ill-judged and not a little surprising, that a public speaker, having a strongly marked religious bias of his own, should thus express himself in regard to students at Harvard, who, as individuals, possess diversified ideas of faith and doctrine, either adopted by themselves or received by parental transmission.
We were glad to notice on the same occasion, that another graduate of Harvard, - an Episcopal clergyman, young enough to have sympathy with the students, - instantly hurled back the remarks to which we have alluded, instancing the fact of the crowded assemblies in Appleton Chapel on those occasions when simple eloquence and hearty zeal were the characteristics of the preacher. The different modes of address employed by the two gentlemen to whom we have alluded may be taken in illustration of the power which man exercises over his fellows, and of the force of plain dignified truth as opposed to specious eloquence.
As regards the students at Harvard we hardly know which would be the most dangerous, - the tendency towards rationalistic ideas, so much feared by the gentleman to whom we have referred; or the absolute certainty of an endeavor to bring forward the heretical doctrine of transubstantiation, which is known to be believed by a recent candidate for the bishopric, whose influence the same gentleman thought to be so very necessary for the infidel students at Harvard! The ingenuity of special pleading in defence of "wide and generous views" loses vitality when the speaker is felt to be narrow-minded, and is suspected of seeking to cloak his own real ideas in wordy, philanthropic expression as to the necessities of the times! The students at Harvard have had much to stand from those cavillers who have made aspersions as to their want of religious ardor or interest, but in this respect, we think that the student of to-day is in no worse condition than his grandfather of the preceding century. There seems to have been in all times a disposition to rail at collegians for inattention to public devotion. The students need live teaching and preaching as much as other large congregations of the world, since this never fails to attract. Examples may be readily given to illustrate this remark, taken from three Christian churches of differing religious views.
The Arlington Street Church, Boston, was thinly attended for several years, until the Rev. Mr. Ware consented to take the pulpit, when he infused his own spirit into the people and filled the church to overflowing. The Rev. Mr. Alger crowds the Music Hall to its third gallery, preaching with an eloquence of thought and diction which is rarely equalled either in this country or in Europe. It is well known in Cambridge that the Rev. Phillips Brooks draws the students to him "with one consent" whenever he is announced to address them, whilst in his own church he has more than quadrupled the value of the pews.
People require to be roused spiritually and intellectually by new methods. The old style of preaching which our Puritan forefathers introduced with stiff orthodox sentences and much Latinity would not be received at the present day. It is necessary, as President Jefferson once said, "to cherish the spirit of our people and keep alive their attention." Our teachers must catch this spirit, to be able to infuse new life into their public instruction. They must not talk down to the people; they must elevate the masses by clear logical earnestness; must sustain life by imparting life, and this not with narrow sectarianism, but with large views of the whole duty of man. Live preaching seeks to disseminate truth, and is acceptable as well to Harvard students as to other people outside college walls.