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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
the Necu feruit. itrisersatii Probleeding House,
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1853,
BY JAMES M. USHER,
The anniversary meetings of the United States Convention of Universalists, are occasions of deep interest, and are more numerously attended, both by the clergy and the laity, than any others. It is questionable whether, in any of the various denominations, there is a Convention, whose annual meetings call together so large a number, and from such distant parts of the country. And the people do not thus assemble in vain; they have an opportunity of hearing some of the ablest preachers in the denomination; they enjoy a season of great religious inter est, a true Pentecostal time of refreshing ; their social feelings are enlivened, and very pleasant acquaintances are formed with some of the most intelligent and devoted friends of the cause.
The question has often been asked, why it is, that so many attend the meetings of the United States Convention, — why they possess such a strong attraction, since it is a body having no special ecclesiastical power, and exercising no particular control over the different State organizations ? The answer is found in the fact, that the attention is devoted, not so much to legislation as to preaching,
to the worship of God, and to social offices. Were the chief interest of the meetings in the council, but few excepting delegates would attend, for the masses would be satisfied by reading the published proceedings. But the chief interest is in the religious exercises and the social communings; and whatever may be thought in regard to the value of ecclesiastical legislation, if the denomination would study its real good, it must never allow the United States Convention to lose its present attractive features. The Convention is now one of our holiest bonds of union, and can never cease to be such a bond, while at its annual gatherings, ministers and people, from all parts of the land, mingle together as brethren in the worship of a common Father, and in the enjoyment of fraternal communion.
The last session of the Convention was one of special interest. The brethren in New York made all the requisite arrangements to secure a good meeting, and we think it may be safely said, that their expectations were fully realized. The attendance was large, and all the religious exercises were conducted in a spirit of true fervor. The preaching was no doubt fully equal to that of any previous occasion. The brethren who officiated received notice, some weeks before the meeting, that their services would be wanted, and consequently went prepared for their work.
Next to the pleasure of hearing the Sermons on a great occasion, is that of reading them. We feel, therefore, that we are doing a good service to the denomination, in publishing this volume, for in their present form, the Sermons
can be read by thousands who were not able to hear them. Besides, Sermons have ever been regarded as useful reading, and we think justly so regarded. While they instruct the mind, they improve the heart; while they unfold and enforce great truths, they awaken the conscience, and urge the reader to the performance of his duty. They have a sanctity which does not belong to any other productions. This is, in part, owing to the divine origin of the ministry and the nature of a sermon, and in part to the power of association. A discourse that is worthy of being called a sermon, speaks to the mind and heart, in the language of authority, and has an influence from its association with the sanctuary, with prayer, praise, and worship. True Sermons, therefore, will always be popular and useful.
The discourses composing this volume, we regard as productions fully entitled to the name of Sermons. They are not mere essays. The difference between an Essay and a Sermon is very marked, though it may not be easy to define exactly in what it consists. If we say that a Sermon is a discourse on a religious subject, our definition will not be sufficient to show wherein a Sermon differs from an Essay, for an Essay may be a discourse on a religious subject. We should be equally wanting in fulness, if we were to say, a Sermon is a discourse on a religious subject, having a text from the Bible at its head, for often there is no connection between a Sermon and its text. Neither would it be enough to say, that a Sermon is a discourse on
religion, delivered from a pulpit by a clergyman, for there are vast numbers of discourses thus delivered, that have none of the essential characteristics of a Sermon. What then, is a Sermon ? We answer : a discourse which sets, forth some revealed truth, and establishes its claim to human belief and practice. It is an essential feature, that it should treat the truth presented as authoritative, and one from which there is no appeal; and that it should seek to produce a religious conviction and life. Thus, a Sermon urges a message from God, in order to produce Christian faith and obedience. An astronomical lecture then, is not a Sermon; neither is an Essay on the formation of snow-flakes, the beauties of art, the offices of poetry, or the pleasures of a cultivated taste. A Sermon may be enriched by illustrations drawn from nature, science, art, and history; but when nature, science, art, or history, becomes the theme, the discourse loses the essential feature of a Sermon.
We not only claim for the discourses of this volume, the merit of Sermons, but we also claim for them another merit, which contributes equally to their value. They are distinctive, and the thought of each one is marked by that completeness which belongs to truth. They are not made up of negations. He who deals in negatives rather than in positives, who denies rather than affirms, has no reason to hope that his labors can be, in any considerable degree, effective for good; for it is truth alone that can change