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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Decline of the Influence of the Pulpit with Educated Laymen

Decline of the Influence of the Pulpit with Educated Laymen.

I heard a sermon preached in a church in Victoria some time ago, which seemed to me to touch the heart of the particular question—namely, the growing division between the minds of the clergy and of the educated thinking laity in the Christian churches, its origin, and the means of restoring union, to which I desire to invite your attention this evening. The preacher was addressing himself to the different sections of a mixed congregation, and when he came to the adult males he spoke to this effect, "Which of you, I ask, page 5 has received our report? I fear if the truth were told that the answer must be very few of you. The adult laymen of Christian congregations appear to me to think that the teaching of Christ's ministers is something that may possibly be of use to women and children, but that it has nothing whatever to do with them. They scarcely pay to it the respect of formal and decorous attention." These remarkable words, addressed to a strange congregation, were uttered with emotion, as though the preacher keenly felt the slight to his order of which he was complaining as an affront offered to himself. At the time I heard them they appeared to me to convey bitter reproach, and also to express with exact truth a momentous fact. There are, of course, many exceptions in every church, and in every congregation of every church; but I take it to be certainly true that the intellects of the great majority of educated and thinking laymen at this day lie wholly outside the influence of the intellectual teaching of the Christian clergy.

The observation is true, we have good reason to believe, of all the Christian churches and in all countries of Christendom. It is true of the Greek Church in Russia: we are told by the author of a remarkable book lately published—Underground, Russia—that the whole of the educated classes in Russia are materialists. It is true of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy and the other countries of Europe where that church prevails. It is true, though the fact may be less obvious and there may be a larger number of exceptions, of one and all of the Protestant churches of Germany, Great Britain, America, and these Australian communities. In all countries professedly Christian the laity evince by their conduct in reference to great public questions such as education and the relations of the State to the churches a growing and profound distrust of all church systems of religious and moral belief. In all the churches the clergy display more and more unwillingness even to allude in their addresses to the laity to the intellectual bases of religious truth and of moral obligation. In all the churches in all Christian countries the adult male laity, by whom the affairs of the world are managed, on whose judgment and mind and character the highest interests of mankind in the present and in future generations mainly depend, remain intellectually untaught by those whose mission, if they have any mission, it is to teach. And to teach adult thinking laymen, I will add, rather than women and children. For is it not a keen and yet a most just reproach to all adult laymen that we have abandoned to other and strange hands the duty of teaching wives and children, which plainly devolves by natural obligation on ourselves? We have an excuse indeed; I do not mean to say that it is a justification. We ourselves are untaught, and we are consequently incapable of performing a duty which demands a knowledge of the most difficult of the sciences and the most delicate of arts, I mean the science and the art of educating and training the undeveloped mind of the child and the receptive and dependent mind of the woman. But where shall the responsibility be laid for the uneducated and untrained condition of the layman's mind with respect to the highest truths?