Henry Ward Beecher's Church

IS there anything in America more peculiar to America, or more curious in itself, than one of our ‘“fashionable” Protestant churches,—such as we see In New York, on the fifth Avenue and in the adjacent streets ? The lion and the lamb in the Millennium will not lie down together more lovingly than the Church and the World have blended in these singular establishments. We are far from objecting to the coalition, but note it only as something curious, new, and interesting.

We enter an edifice, upon the interior of which the upholsterer and the cabinet-maker have exhausted the resources of their trades. The word “subdued ” describes the effect at which those artists have aimed. The woods employed are costly and rich, but usually of a sombre hue, and, though elaborately carved, are frequently unpolished. The light which comes through the stained windows, or through the small diamond panes, is of that description which Mr. Verplanck, in an unfortunate moment, styled “dim, religious.” Every part of the floor is thickly carpeted. The pews differ little from sofas, except in being more comfortable, and the cushions for the feet or the knees are as soft as hair and cloth can make them. It is a fashion, at present, to put the organ out of sight, and to have a clock so unobtrusive as not to be observed. Galleries are now viewed with an unfriendly eye by the projectors of churches, and they are going out of use. Everything in the way of conspicuous lighting apparatus, such as the gorgeous and dazzling chandeliers of fifteen years ago, and the translucent globes of later date, is discarded, and an attempt is sometimes made to hide the vulgar fact that the church is ever open in the evening. In a word, the design of the fashionable church-builder of the present moment is to produce a richly furnished, quietly adorned, dimly illuminated, ecclesiastical parlor, in which a few hundred ladies and gentlemen, attired in kindred taste, may sit perfectly at their ease, and see no object not in harmony with the scene around them.

To say that the object of these costly and elegant arrangements is to repel poor people would be a calumny. On the contrary, persons who show by their dress and air that they exercise the less remunerative vocations arc as politely shown to seats as those who roll up to the door in carriages, and the presence of such persons is desired, and, in many instances, systematically sought. Nevertheless, the poor are repelled. They know they cannot pay their proportion of the expense of maintaining such establishments, and they do not wish to enjoy what others pay for. Everything in and around the church seems to proclaim it a kind of exclusive ecclesiastical club, designed for the accommodation of persons of ten thousand dollars a year, and upward. Or it is as though the carriages on the Road to Heaven were divided into firstclass, second-class, and third-class, and a man either takes the one that accords with his means, or denies himself the advantage of travelling that road, or prefers to trudge along on foot, an independent wayfarer.

It is Sunday morning, and the doors of this beautiful drawing-room are thrown open. Ladies dressed with subdued magnificence glide in, along with some who have not been able to leave at home the showier articles of their wardrobe. Black silk, black velvet, black lace, relieved by intimations of brighter colors, and by gleams from half-hidden jewelry, are the materials most employed. Gentlemen in uniform of black cloth and white linen announce their coming by the creaking of their boots, quenched in the padded carpeting. It cannot be said of these churches, as Mr. Carlyle remarked of certain London ones, that a pistol could be fired into a window across the church without much danger of hitting a Christian. The attendance is not generally very large ; but as the audience is evenly distributed over the whole surface, it looks larger than it is. In a commercial city everything is apt to be measured by the commercial standard, and accordingly a church numerically weak, but financially strong, ranks, in the estimation of the town, not according to its number of souls, but its number of dollars. We heard a fine young fellow, last summer, full of zeal for everything high and good, conclude a glowing account of a sermon by saying that it was the direct means of adding to the church a capital of one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. He meant nothing low or mercenary: he honestly exulted in the fact that the power and influence attached to the possession of one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars were thenceforward to be exerted on behalf of objects which he esteemed the highest. If therefore the church before our view cannot boast of a numerous attendance, it more than consoles itself by the reflection, that there are a dozen names of talismanic power in Wall Street on its list of members.

“ But suppose the Doctor should leave you ? ” objected a friend of ours to a trustee, who had been urging him to buy a pew in a fashionable church.

“Well, my dear sir,” was the business-like reply; “suppose he should. We should immediately engage the very first talent which money can command.”

We can hardly help taking this simple view of things in rich commercial cities. Our worthy trustee merely put the thing on the correct basis. He frankly said what every church does, ought to do, and must do. He stated a universal fact in the plain and sensible language to which he was accustomed. In the same way, these business-like Christians have borrowed the language of the Church, and speak of men who are “good ” for a million.

The congregation is assembled. The low mumble of the organ ceases. A female voice rises melodiously above the rustle of dry-goods and the whispers of those who wear them. So sweet and powerful is it, that a stranger might almost suppose it borrowed from the choir of heaven ; but the inhabitants of the town recognize it as one they have often heard at concerts or at the opera; and they listen critically, as to a professional performance, which it is. It is well that highly artificial singing prevents the hearer from catching the words of the song; for it would have rather an odd effect to hear rendered, in the modern Italian style, such plain, straightforward words as these : —

“ Can sinners hope for heaven
Who love this world so well ?
Or dream of future happiness
While on the road to hell ? ”

The performance, however, is so exquisite that we do not think of these things, but listen in rapture to the voice alone. When the lady has finished her stanza, a noble barytone, also recognized as professional, takes up the strain, and performs a stanza, solo ; at the conclusion of which, four voices, in enchanting accord, breathe out a third. It is evident that the “first talent that money can command ” has been “engaged” for the entertainment of the congregation ; and we are not surprised when the information is proudly communicated that the music costs a hundred and twenty dollars per Sunday.

What is very surprising and well worthy of consideration is, that this beautiful music does not “draw.” In our rovings about among the noted churches of New York, — of the kind which “ engage the first talent that money can command,” — we could never see that the audience was much increased by expensive professional music. On the contrary, we can lay it down as a general rule, that the costlier the music, the smaller is the average attendance. The afternoon service at Trinity Church, for example, is little more than a delightful gratuitous concert of boys, men, and organ ; and the spectacle of the altar brilliantly lighted by candles is novel and highly picturesque. The sermon also is of the fashionable length, — twenty minutes; and yet the usual afternoon congregation is about two hundred persons. Those celestial strains of music,—well, they enchant the ear, if the ear happens to be within hearing of them ; but somehow they do not furnish a continuous attraction.

When this fine prelude is ended, the minister’s part begins ; and, unless he is a man of extraordinary bearing and talents, every one present is conscious of a kind of lapse in the tone of the occasion. Genius composed the music ; the “ first talent ” executed it; the performance has thrilled the soul, and exalted expectation ; but the voice now heard may be ordinary, and the words uttered may be homely, or even common. No one unaccustomed to the place can help feeling a certain incongruity between the language heard and the scene witnessed. Everything we see is modern ; the words we hear are ancient. The preacher speaks of “ humble believers,” and we look around and ask, Where are they ? Are these costly and elegant persons humble believers? Far be it from us to intimate that they are not; we are speaking only of their appearance, and its effect upon a casual beholder. The clergyman reads,

“ Come, let ns join in sweet accord, ”

and straightway four hired performers execute, a piece of difficult music, to an audience sitting passive. He discourses upon the “pleasures of the world,”as being at war with the interests of the soul ; and, while a severe sentence to this effect is coming from his lips, down the aisle marches the sexton, showing some stranger to a seat, who is a professional master of the revels. He expresses, perchance, a fervent desire that the heathen may be converted to Christianity, and we catch ourselves saying, “ Docs he mean this sort of thing?” When we pronounce the word Christianity, it calls up recollections and associations that do not exactly harmonize with the scene around us. We think rather of the fishermen of Palestine, on the lonely sea-shore; of the hunted fugitives of Italy and Scotland; we think of it as something lowly, and suited to the lowly, — a refuge for the forsaken and the defeated, not the luxury of the rich and the ornament of the strong. It may be an infirmity of our mind ; but we experience a certain difficulty in realizing that the sumptuous and costly apparatus around us has anything in common with what we have been accustomed to think of as Christianity,

Sometimes, the incongruity reaches the point of the ludicrous. We recently heard a very able and well-intentioned preacher, near the Fifth Avenue, ask the ladies before him whether they were in the habit of speaking to their female attendants about their souls’ salvation, — particularly those who dressed their hair. He especially mentioned the hair-dressers ; because, as he truly remarked, ladies are accustomed to converse with those artistes, during the operation of hair-dressing, on a variety of topics; and the opportunity was excellent to say a word on the one most important. This incident perfectly illustrates what we mean by the seeming incongruity between the ancient cast of doctrine and the modernized people to whom it is preached. We have heard sermons in fashionable churches in New York, laboriously prepared and earnestly read, which had nothing in them of the modern spirit, contained not the most distant allusion to modern modes of living and sinning, had no suitableness whatever to the people or the time, and from which everything that could rouse or interest a human soul living on Manhattan Island in the year 1867 seemed to have been purposely pruned away. And perhaps, if a clergyman really has no message to deliver, his best course is to utter a jargon of nothings.

Upon the whole, the impression left upon the mind of the visitor to the fashionable church is, that he has been looking, not upon a living body, but a decorated image.

It may be, however, that the old conception of a Christian church, as the one place where all sorts and conditions of men came together to dwell upon considerations interesting to all equally, is not adapted to modern society, wherein one man differs from another in knowledge even more than a king once differed from a peasant in rank. When all were ignorant, a mass chanted in an unknown tongue, and a short address warning against the only vices known to ignorant people, sufficed for the whole community. But what form of service can be even imagined, that could satisfy Bridget, who cannot read, and her mistress, who comes to church cloyed with the dainties of half a dozen literatures? Who could preach a sermon that would hold attentive the man saturated with Buckle, Mill, Spencer, Thackeray, Emerson, Humboldt, and Agassiz, and the man whose only literary recreation is the dime novel ? In the good old times, when terror was latent in every soul, and the preacher had only to deliver a very simple message, pointing out the one way to escape endless torture, a very ordinary mortal could arrest and retain attention. But this resource is gone forever, and the modern preacher is thrown upon the resources of his own mind and talent. There is great difficulty here, and it does not seem likely to diminish. It may be, that never again, as long as time shall endure, will ignorant and learned, masters and servants, poor and rich, feel themselves at home in the same church.

At present we are impressed, and often oppressed, with the too evident fact, that neither the intelligent nor the uninstructed souls are so well ministered to, in things spiritual, as we could imagine they might be. The fashionable world of New' York goes to church every Sunday morning with tolerable punctuality, and yet it seems to drift rapidly toward Paris, What it usually hears at church does not appear to exercise controlling influence over its conduct or its character.

Among the churches about New York to which nothing we have said applies, the one that presents the strongest contrast to the fashionable church is Henry Ward Beecher’s. Some of the difficulties resulting from the altered state of opinion in recent times have been overcome there, and an institution has been created which appears to be adapted to the needs, as well as to the tastes, of the people frequenting it. We can at least say of it, that it is a living body, and not a decorated image.

For many years, this church upon Brooklyn Heights has been, to the best of the visitors to the metropolis, the most interesting object in or near it. Of Brooklyn itself, — a great assemblage of residences, without much business or stir, — it seems the animating soul. We have a fancy, that we can tell by the manner and bearing of an inhabitant of the place whether he attends this church or not; for there is a certain joyousness, candor, and democratic simplicity about the members of that congregation, which might be styled Beecherian, if there were not a better word. This church is simply the most characteristic thing of America. If we had a foreigner in charge to whom we wished to reveal this country, we should like to push him in, hand him over to one of the brethren who perform the arduous duty of providing seats for visitors, and say to him : “ There, stranger, you have arrived ; this is the United States, the New Testament, Plymouth Rock, and the Fourth of July, — this is what they have brought us to. What the next issue will be, no one can tell; but this is about what we are at present.”

We cannot imagine what the brethren could have been thinking about when they ordered the new bell that hangs in the tower of Plymouth Church. It is the most superfluous article in the known world. The New-Yorker who steps on board the Fulton ferry-boat about ten o’clock on Sunday morning finds himself accompanied by a large crowd of people who bear the visible stamp of strangers, who are going to Henry Ward Beecher’s church. You can pick them out with perfect certainty. You see the fact in their countenances, in their dress, in their demeanor, as well as hear it in words of eager expectation. They are the kind of people who regard wearing-apparel somewhat in the light of its utility, and are not crushed by their clothes. They are the sort of people who take the “Tribune,” and get up courses of lectures in the country towns. From every quarter of Brooklyn, in street cars and on foot, streams of people are converging toward the same place. Every Sunday morning and evening, rain or shine, there is the same concourse, the same crowd at the gates before they are open, and the same long, laborious effort to get thirty-live hundred people into a building that will seat but twenty-seven hundred. Besides the ten or twelve members of the church who volunteer to assist in this labor, there is employed a force of six policemen at the doors, to prevent the multitude from choking all ingress. Seats are retained for their proprietors until ten minutes before the time of beginning ; after that the strangers are admitted. Mr. Buckle, if he were with us still, would be pleased to know that his doctrine of averages holds good in this instance ; since every Sunday about a churchful of persons come to this church, so that not many who come fail to get in.

There is nothing of the ecclesiastical drawing-room in the arrangements of this edifice. It is a very plain brick building, in a narrow street of small, pleasant houses, and the interior is only striking from its extent and convenience. The simple, old-fashioned design of the builder was to provide seats for as many people as the space would hold ; and in executing this design, he constructed one of the finest interiors in the country, since the most pleasing and inspiriting spectacle that human eyes ever behold in this world is such an assembly as fills this church. The audience is grandly displayed in those wide, rounded galleries, surging up high against the white walls, and scooped out deep in the slanting floor, leaving the carpeted platform the vortex of an arrested whirlpool. Often it happens that two or three little children get lodged upon the edge of the platform, and sit there on the carpet among the flowers during the service, giving to the picture a singularly pleasing relief, as though they and the bouquets had been arranged by the same skilful hand, and for the same purpose. And it seems quite natural and proper that children should form part of so bright and joyous an occasion. Behind the platform rises to the ceiling the huge organ, of dark wood and silvered pipes, with fans of trumpets pointing heavenward from the top. This enormous toy occupies much space that could be better filled, and is only less superfluous than the bell; but we must pardon and indulge a foible. We could never see that Mr. Forrest walked any better for having such thick legs ; yet they have their admirers. Blind old Handel played on an instrument very different from this, but the sexton had to eat a cold Sunday dinner ; for not a Christian would stir as long as the old man touched the keys after service. But not old Handel nor older Gabriel could make such music as swells and roars from three thousand human voices,— the regular choir of Plymouth Church. It is a decisive proof of the excellence and heartiness of this choir, that the great organ has not lessened its effectiveness.

It is not clear to the distant spectator by what aperture Mr. Beecher enters the church. He is suddenly discovered to be present, seated in his place on the platform,—an under-sized gentleman in a black stock. His hair combed behind his ears, and worn a little longer than usual, imparts to his appearance something of the Puritan, and calls to mind his father, the champion of orthodoxy in heretical Boston. In conducting the opening exercises, and, indeed, on all occasions of ceremony, Mr. Beecher shows himself an artist,-—both his language and his demeanor being marked by the most refined decorum. An elegant, finished simplicity characterizes all he does and says: not a word too much, nor a word misused, nor a word waited for, nor an unharmonious movement, mars the satisfaction of the auditor. The habit of living for thirty years in the view of a multitude, together with a natural sense of the becoming, and a quick sympathy with men and circumstances, has wrought up his public demeanor to a point near perfection. A candidate for public honors could not study a better model. This is the more remarkable, because it is a purely spiritual triumph. Mr. Beecher’s person is not imposing, nor his natural manner graceful. It is his complete extirpation of the desire of producing an illegitimate effect; it is his sincerity and genuineness as a human being ; it is the dignity of his character, and his command of his powers, — which give him this easy mastery over every situation in which he finds himself.

Extempore prayers are not, perhaps, a proper subject for comment. The grand feature of the preliminary services of this church is the singing, which is not executed by the first talent that money can command. When the prelude upon the organ is finished, the whole congregation, almost every individual in it, as if by a spontaneous and irresistible impulse, stands up and sings. We are not aware that anything has ever been done or said to bring about this result ; nor does the minister of the church set the example, for he usually remains sitting and silent. It seems as if every one in the congregation was so full of something that he felt impelled to get up and sing it out. In other churches where congregational singing is attempted, there are usually a number of languid Christians who remain seated, and a, large number of others who remain silent; but here there is a strange unanimity about the performance. A sailor might as well try not to join in the chorus of a forecastle song as a member of this joyous host not to sing. When the last preliminary singing is concluded, the audience is in an excellent condition to sit and listen, their whole corporeal system having been pleasantly exercised.

The sermon which follows is new wine in an old bottle. Up to the moment when the text has been announced and briefly explained, the service has all been conducted upon the ancient model, and chiefly in the ancient phraseology ; but from the moment when Mr. Beecher swings free from the moorings of his text and gets fairly under way, his sermon is modern. No matter how fervently he may have been praying supernaturalism, he preaches pure cause and effect. His text may savor of old Palestine, but his sermon is inspired by New York and Brooklyn ; and nearly all that he says, when he is most himself, finds an approving response in the mind of every well-disposed person, whether orthodox or heterodox in his creed.

What is religion ? That, of course, is the great question. Mr. Beecher says : Religion is the slow, laborious, self-conducted EDUCATION of the whole man, from grossness to refinement, from sickliness to health, from ignorance to knowledge, from selfishness to justice, from justice to nobleness, from cowardice to valor. In treating this topic, whatever he may pray or read or assent to, he preaches cause and effect, and nothing else. Regeneration he does not represent to be some mysterious, miraculous influence exerted upon a man from without, but the man’s own act, wholly and always, and in every stage of its progress. His general way of discoursing upon this subject would satisfy the most rationalized mind ; and yet it does not appear to offend the most orthodox.

This apparent contradiction between the spirit of his preaching and the facts of his position is a severe puzzle to some of our thorough-going friends. They ask, How can a man demonstrate that the fall of rain is so governed by unchanging laws that the shower of yesterday dates back in its causes to the origin of things, and, having proved this to the comprehension of every soul present, finish by praying for an immediate outpouring upon the thirsty fields ? We confess that, to our modern way of thinking, there is a contradiction here, but there is none at all to an heir of the Puritans. We reply to our impatient young friends, that Henry Ward Beecher at once represents and assists the American Christian of the present time, just because of this seeming contradiction. He is a bridge over which we are passing from the creed-enslaved past to the perfect freedom of the future. Mr. Lecky, in his “ History of the Spirit of Rationalism,” has shown the process by which truth is advanced. Old errors, he says, do not die because they are refuted, but fade out because they are neglected. One hundred and fifty years ago, our ancestors were perplexed, and even distressed, by something they called the doctrine of Original Sin, No one now concerns himself either to refute or assert the doctrine ; few people know what it is ; we all simply let it alone, and it fades out. John Wesley not merely believed in witchcraft, but maintained that a belief in witchcraft was essential to salvation. All the world, except here and there an enlightened and fearless person, believed in witchcraft as late as the year 1750. That belief has not perished because its folly was demonstrated, but because the average human mind grew past it, and let it alone until it faded out in the distance. Or we might compare the great body of beliefs to a banquet, in which every one takes what he likes best; and the master of the feast, observing what is most in demand, keeps an abundant supply of such viands, but gradually withdraws those which are neglected. Mr. Beecher has helped himself to such beliefs as are congenial to him, and shows an exquisite tact in passing by those which interest him not, and which have lost regenerating power. There are minds which cannot be content with anything like vagueness or inconsistency in their opinions. They must know to a certainty whether the sun and moon stood still or not. His is not a mind of that cast; he can “ hover on the confines of truth,” and leave the less inviting parts of the landscape veiled in mist unexplored. Indeed, the great aim of his preaching is to show the insignificance of opinion compared with right feeling and noble living, and be prepares the way for the time when evenconceivable latitude of mere opinion shall be allowed and encouraged.

One remarkable thing about his preaching is, that he has not, like so many men of liberal tendencies, fallen into milk-and-waterism. He often gives a foretaste of the terrific power which preachers will wield when they draw inspiration from science and life. Without ever frightening people with horrid pictures of the future, he has a sense of the perils which beset human life here, upon this bank and shoal of time. How needless to draw upon the imagination, in depicting the consequences of violating natural law ! Suppose a preacher should give a plain, cold, scientific exhibition of the penalty which Nature exacts for the crime, so common among church-going ladies and others, of murdering their unborn offspring! It would appall the Devil. Scarcely less terrible are the consequences of the most common vices and meannesses when they get the mastery. Mr. Beecher has frequently shown, by powerful delineations of this kind, how large a part legitimate terror must ever play in the services of a true church, when the terrors of superstition have wholly faded out. It cannot be said of his preaching, that he preaches “ Christianity with the bones taken out.” He does not give “twenty minutes of tepid exhortation,” nor amuse his auditors with elegant and melodious essays upon virtue.

We need not say that his power as a public teacher is due, in a great degree, to his fertility in illustrative similes. Three or four volumes, chiefly filled with these, as they have been caught from his lips, are before the public, and are admired on both continents. Many of them are most strikingly happy, and flood his subject with light. The smiles that break out upon the sea of upturned faces, and the laughter that whispers round the assembly, are often due as much to the aptness as to the humor of the illustration: the mind receives an agreeable shock of surprise at finding a resemblance where only the widest dissimilarity had before been perceived.

Of late years, Mr. Beecher never sends an audience away half satisfied ; for he has constantly grown with the growth of his splendid opportunity. How attentive the great assembly, and how quickly responsive to the points he makes ! That occasional ripple of laughter, — it is not from any want of seriousness in the speaker, in the subject, or in the congregation, nor is it a Rowland Hill eccentricity. It is simply that it has pleased Heaven to endow this genial soul with a quick perception of the likeness there is between things unlike ; and, in the heat and torrent of his speech, the suddenly discovered similarity amuses while it instructs. Philosophers and purists may cavil at parts of these sermons, and, of course, they are not perfect ; btit who can deny that their general effect is civilizing, humanizing, elevating, and regenerating, and that this master of preaching is the true brother of all those high and bright spirits, on both sides of the ocean, who are striving to make the soul of this age fit to inhabit and nobly impel its new body ?

The sermon over, a livelier song brings the service to a happy conclusion ; and slowly, to the thunder of the new organ, the great assembly dissolves and oozes away.

The Sunday services are not the whole of this remarkable church. It has not yet adopted Mrs. Stowe’s suggestion of providing billiard-rooms, bowling-alleys, and gymnastic apparatus for the development of Christian muscle, though these may come in time. The building at present contains eleven apartments, among which are two large parlors, wherein, twice a month, there is a social gathering of the church and congregation, for conversation with the pastor and with one another. Perhaps, by and by, these will be always open, so as to furnish club conveniences to young men who have no home. Doubtless, this fine social organization is destined to development in many directions not yet contemplated.

Among the ancient customs of New England and its colonies (of which Brooklyn is one) is the Friday-evening prayer-meeting. Some of our readers, perhaps, have dismal recollections of their early compelled attendance on those occasions, when, with their hands firmly held in the maternal grasp, lest at the last moment they should bolt under cover of the darkness, they glided round into the back parts of the church, lighted by one smoky lantern hung over the door of the lecture-room, itself dimly lighted, and as silent as the adjacent chambers of the dead. Female figures, demure in dress and eyes cast down, flitted noiselessly in, and the awful stillness was only broken by the heavy boots of the few elders and deacons who constituted the male portion of the exceedingly slender audience. With difficulty, and sometimes only after two or three failures, a hymn was raised, which, when in fullest tide, was only a dreary wail, — how unmelodious to the ears of unreverential youth, gifted with a sense of the ludicrous ! How long, how sad, how pointless the prayers! How easy to believe, down in that dreary cellar, that this world was but a wilderness, and man “ a feeble piece ” ! Deacon Jones could speak up briskly enough when he was selling two yards of shilling calico to a farmer’s wife sharp at a bargain ; but in that apartment, contiguous to the tombs, it seemed natural that he should utter dismal views of life in bad grammar through his nose. Mrs. Jones was cheerful when she gave her little tea-party the evening before ; but now she appeared to assent, without surprise, to the statement that she was a pilgrim travelling through a vale of tears. Veritable pilgrims, who do actually meet in an oasis of the desert, have a merry time of it, travellers tell us. It was not so with these good souls, inhabitants of a pleasant place, and anticipating an eternal abode in an inconceivably delightful paradise. But then there was the awful chance of missing it! And the reluctant youth, dragged to this melancholy scene, who avenged themselves by giving select imitations of deaconian eloquence for the amusement of young friends,— what was to become of them ? It was such thoughts, doubtless, that gave to those excellent people their gloomy habit of mind ; and if their creed expressed the literal truth respecting man’s destiny, character, and duty, terror alone was rational, and laughter was hideous and defiant mockery. What room in a benevolent heart for joy,’when a point of time, a moment’s space, removed us to that heavenly place, or shut us up in hell ?

From the time when we were accustomed to attend such meetings, long ago, we never saw a Friday-evening meeting till the other night, when we found ourselves in the lecture-room of Plymouth Church.

The room is large, very lofty, brilliantly lighted by reflectors affixed to the ceiling, and, except the scarlet cushions on the settees, void of upholstery. It was filled full with a cheerful company, not one of whom seemed to have on more or richer clothes than she had the moral strength to wear. Content and pleasant expectation sat on every countenance, as when people have come to a festival, and await the summons to the banquet. No pulpit, or anything like a pulpit, cast a shadow over the scene ; but in its stead there was a rather large platform, raised two steps, covered with dark green canvas, and having upon it a very small table and one chair. The red-cushioned settees were so arranged as to enclose the green platform all about, except on one side; so that he who should sit upon it would appear to be in the midst of the people, raised above them that all might see him, yet still among them and one of them. At one side of the platform, but on the floor of the room, among the settees, there was a piano open. Mr. Beecher sat near by, reading what appeared to be a letter of three or four sheets. The whole scene was so little like what we commonly understand by the word “ meeting,” the people there were so little in a “meeting” state of mind, and the subsequent proceedings were so informal, unstudied, and social, that, in attempting to give this account of them, we almost feel as if we were reporting for print the conversation of a private evening party. Anything more unlike an old-fashioned prayer-meeting it is not possible to conceive.

Mr. Beecher took his seat upon the platform, and, after a short pause, began the exercises by saying, in a low tone, these words : “ Six twenty-two.”

A rustling of the leaves of hymnbooks interpreted the meaning of this mystical utterance, which otherwise might have been taken as announcing a discourse upon the prophetic numbers. The piano confirmed the interpretation; and then the company burst into one of those joyous and unanimous singings which are so enchanting a feature of the services of this church. Loud rose the beautiful harmony of voices, constraining every one to join in the song, even those most unused to sing. When it was ended, the pastor, in the same low tone, pronounced a name ; upon which one of the brethren rose to his feet, and the rest of the assembly slightly inclined their heads. It would not, as we have remarked, be becoming in us to say. anything upon this portion of the proceedings, except to note that the prayers were all brief, perfectly quiet and simple, and free from the routine or regulation expressions. There were but two or three of them, alternating with singing; and when that part of the exercises was concluded, Mr. Beecher had scarcely spoken. The meeting ran alone, in the most spontaneous and pleasant manner; and, with all its heartiness and simplicity, there was a certain refined decorum pervading all that was done and said. There was a pause after the last hymn died away, and then Mr. Beecher, still seated, began, in the tone of conversation, to speak, somewhat after this manner.

“ When,” said he, “ I first began to walk as a Christian, in my youthful zeal I made many resolutions that were well meant, but indiscreet. Among others, I remember I resolved to pray, at least once, in some way, every hour that I was awake. I tried faithfully to keep this resolution, but never having succeeded a single day, I suffered the pangs of self-reproach, until reflection satisfied me that the only wisdom possible, with regard to such a resolve, was to break it. I remember, too, that I made a resolution to speak upon religion to every person with whom I conversed, — on steamboats, in the streets, anywhere. In this, also, I failed, as I ought; and I soon learned that, in the sowing of such seed, as in other sowings, times and seasons and methods must be considered and selected, or a man may defeat his own object, and make religion loathsome.”

In language like this he introduced the topic of the evening’s conversation, which was, How far, and on what occasions, and in what manner, one person may invade, so to speak, the personality of another, and speak to him upon his moral condition. The pastor expressed his own opinion, always in the conversational tone, in a talk of ten minutes’ duration; in the course of which he applauded, not censured, the delicacy which causes most people to shrink from doing it. He said that a man’s personality was not a macadamized road for every vehicle to drive upon at will; but rather a sacred enclosure, to be entered, if at all, with the consent of the owner, and with deference to his feelings and tastes. He maintained, however, that there were times and modes in which this might properly be done, and that every one had a duty to perform of this nature. When he had finished his observations, he said the subject was open to the remarks of others ; whereupon a brother instantly rose and made a very honest confession.

He said that he had never attempted to perform the duty in question without having a palpitation of the heart, and a complete “ turning over” of his inner man. He had often reflected upon this curious fact, but was not able to account for it. He had not allowed this repugnance to prevent his doing the duty; but he always had to rush at it and perform it by a sort of coup de main; for if he allowed himself to think about the matter, he could not do it at all. He concluded by saying that he should be very much obliged to any one if he could explain this mystery.

The pastor said : “ May it not be the natural delicacy we feel, and ought to feel, in approaching the interior consciousness of another person ?”

Another brother rose. There was no hanging back at this meeting ; there were no awkward pauses ; every one seemed full of matter. The new speaker was not inclined to admit the explanation suggested by the pastor. “ Suppose,” said he, “we were to see a man in imminent danger of immediate destruction, and there was one way of escape, and but one, which we saw and he did not, should we feel any delicacy in running up to him and urging him to fly for his life ? Is it not a want of faith on our part that causes the reluctance and hesitation we all feel in urging others to avoid a peril so much more momentous ? ”

Mr. Beecher said the cases were not parallel. Irreligious persons, he remarked, were not in imminent danger of immediate death ; they might die to-morrow ; but in all probability they would not, and an ill-timed or injudicious admonition might forever repel them. We must accept the doctrine of probabilities, and act in accordance with it in this particular, as in all others.

Another brother had a puzzle to present for solution. He said that he too had experienced the repugnance to which allusion had been made; but what surprised him most was, that the more he loved a person, and the nearer he was related to him, the more difficult he found it to converse with him upon his spiritual state. Why is this ? “I should like to have this question answered,” said he, “ if there is an answer to it.”

Mr. Beecher observed that this was the universal experience, and he was conscious himself of a peculiar reluctance and embarrassment in approaching one of his own household on the subject in question. He thought it was due to the fact that we respect more the personal rights of those near to us than we do those of others, and it was more difficult to break in upon the routine of our ordinary familiarity with them. We are accustomed to a certain tone, which it is highly embarrassing to jar upon.

Captain Duncan related two amusing anecdotes to illustrate the right way and the wrong way of introducing religious conversation. In his office there was sitting one day a sort of lay preacher, who was noted for lagging in his favorite topic in the most forbidding and abrupt manner. A sea-captain came in, who was introduced to this individual.

“Captain Porter,” said he, with awful solemnity, “are you a captain in Israel ? ”

The honest sailor was so abashed and confounded at this novel salutation, that he could only stammer out an incoherent reply; and he was evidently much disposed to give the tactless zealot a piece of his mind expressed in the language of the quarter-deck. When the solemn man took his leave, the disgusted captain said, “If ever I should be coming to your office again, and that man should be here, I wish you would send me word, and I 'll stay away.”

A few days after, another clergyman chanced to be in the office, no other than Mr. Beecher himself, and another captain came in, a roystering, swearing, good-hearted fellow. The conversation fell upon sea-sickness, a malady to which Mr. Beecher is peculiarly liable. This captain also was one of the few sailors who are always sea-sick in going to sea, and gave a moving account ot his sufferings from that cause. Mr. Beecher, after listening attentively to his tale, said, “ Captain Duncan, if I was a preacher to such sailors as your friend here, I should represent hell as an eternal voyage, with every man on board in the agonies of sea-sickness, the crisis always imminent, but never coming.”

This ludicrous and most unprofessional picture amused the old salt exceedingly, and won his entire good-will toward the author of it; so that, after Mr. Beecher left, he said, “ That ’s a good fellow, Captain Duncan. I like him, and I 'd like to hear him talk more.”

Captain Duncan contended that this free-and-easy way of address was just the thing for such characters. Mr. Beecher had shown him, to his great surprise, that a man could be a decent and comfortable human being, although he was a minister, and had so gained his confidence and good-will that he could say anything to him at their next interview. Captain Duncan finished his remarks by a decided expression of his disapproval of the canting regulation phrases so frequently employed by religious people, which are perfectly nauseous to men of the world.

This interesting conversation lasted about three quarters of an hour, and ended, not because the theme seemed exhausted, but because the time was up. We have only given enough of it to convey some little idea of its spirit. The company again broke into one of their cheerful hymns, and the meeting was dismissed in the usual manner.

During the whole evening not a canting word nor a false tone had been uttered. Some words were used, it is true, and some forms practised, which are not congenial to “ men of the world,” and some doctrines were assumed to be true which have become incredible to many of us. These, however, were not conspicuous nor much dwelt upon. The subject, too, of the conversation was less suitable to our purpose than most of the topics discussed at these meetings, which usually have a more direct bearing upon the conduct of life. Nevertheless, is it not apparent that such meetings as this, conducted by a man of tact, good sense, and experience, must be an aid to good living ? Here were a number of people,—parents, businessmen, and others, — most of them heavily burdened with responsibility, having notes and rents to pay, customers to get and keep, children to rear, — busy people, anxious people, of extremely diverse characters, but united by a common desire to live nobly. The difficulties of noble living are very great, — never so great, perhaps, as now and here, —and these people assemble every week to converse upon them. What more rational thing could they do ? If they came together to snivel and cant, and to support one another in a miserable conceit of being the elect ot the human species, we might object. But no description can show how far from that, how opposite to that, is the tone, the spirit, the object, of the Friday-evening meeting at Plymouth Church.

Have we “ Liberals ” — as we presume to call ourselves — ever devised anything so well adapted as this to the needs of average mortals, struggling with the ordinary troubles of life ? ' We know of nothing. Philosophical treatises, and arithmetical computations respecting the number of people who inhabited Palestine, may have their use, but they cannot fill the aching void in the heart of a lone widow, or teach an anxious father how to manage a troublesome boy. There was an old lady near us at this meeting,—a good soul in a bonnet four fashions old, — who sat and cried for joy, as the brethren carried on their talk. She had come in alone from her solitary room, and enjoyed all the evening long a blended moral and literary rapture. It was a banquet of delight to her, the recollection of which would brighten all her week, and it cost her no more than air and sunlight. To the happy, the strong, the victorious, Shakespeare and the Musical Glasses may appear to suffice ; but the world is full of the weak, the wretched, and the vanquished.

There was an infuriate heretic in Boston once, whose antipathy to what he called “ superstition ” was something that bordered upon lunacy. But the time came when he had a child, his only child, and the sole joy of his life, dead in the house. It had to be buried. The broken-hearted father could not endure the thought of his child’s being carried out and placed in its grave without some outward mark of respect, some ceremonial which should recognize the difference between a dead child and a dead kitten ; and he was fain, at last, to go out and bring to his house a poor lame cobbler, who was a kind of Methodist preacher, to say and read a few words that should break the fall of the darling object into the tomb. The occurrence made no change in his opinions, but it revolutionized his feelings. He is as untheological as ever; but he would subscribe money to build a church, and he esteems no man more than an honest clergyman.

If anything can be predicated of the future with certainty, it is, that the American people will never give up that portion of their heritage from the past which we call Sunday, but will always devote its hours to resting the body and improving the soul. All our theologies will pass away, but this will remain. Nor less certain is it, that there will always be a class of men who will do, professionally and as their settled vocation, the work now done by the clergy. That work can never be dispensed with, either in civilized or in barbarous communities. The great problem of civilization is, how to bring the higher intelligence of the community, and its better moral feeling, to bear upon the mass of people, so that the lowest grade of intelligence and morals shall be always approaching the higher, and the higher still rising. A church purified of superstition solves part of this problem, and a good school system does the rest.

All things improve in this world very much in the same way. The improvement originates in one man’s mind, and, being carried into effect with evident good results, it is copied by others. We are all apt lazily to run in the groove in which we find ourselves ; we are creatures of habit, and slaves of tradition. Now and then, however, in every profession and sphere, if they are untrammelled by law, an individual appears who is discontented with the ancient methods, or sceptical of the old traditions, or both, and he invents better ways, or arrives at more rational opinions. Other men look on and approve the improved process, or listen and imbibe the advanced belief.

Now, there appears to be a man upon Brooklyn Heights who has found out a more excellent way of conducting a church than has been previously known. He does not waste the best hours of every day in writing sermons, but employs those hours in absorbing the knowledge and experience which should be the matter of sermons. He does not fritter away the time of a public instructor in “ pastoral visits,” and other useless visitations. His mode of conducting a public ceremonial reaches the finish of high art, which it resembles also in its sincerity and simplicity. He has known how to banish from his church everything that savors of cant and sanctimoniousness, -— so loathsome to honest minds. Without formally rejecting time-honored forms and usages, he has infused into his teachings more and more of the modern spirit, drawn more and more from science and life, less and less from tradition, until he has acquired the power of preaching sermons which Edwards and Voltaire, Whitefield and Tom Paine, would heartily and equally enjoy. Surely, there is something in all this which could be imitated. The great talents with which he is endowed cannot be imparted, but we do not believe that his power is wholly derived from his talent. A man of only respectable abilities, who should catch his spirit, practise some of his methods, and spend his strength in getting knowledge, and not in coining sentences, would be able anywhere to gather round him a concourse of bearers. The great secret is, to let orthodoxy slide, as something which is neither to be maintained nor refuted, — insisting only on the spirit of Christianity, and applying it to the life of the present day in this land.

There are some reasons for thinking that the men and the organizations that have had in charge the moral interests of the people of the United States for the last fifty years have not been quite equal to their trust. What are we to think of such results of New England culture as Douglas, Cass, Webster, and many other men of great ability, but strangely wanting in moral power? What are we to think of the great numbers of Southern Yankees who were, and are, the bitterest foes of all that New England represents ? What are we to think of the Rings that seem now-a-days to form themselves, as it were, spontaneously in every great corporation ? What of the club-houses that spring up at every corner, for the accommodation of husbands and fathers who find more attractions in wine, supper, and equivocal stories than in the society of their wives and children ? What are we to think of the fact, that among the people who can afford to advertise at the rate of a dollar and a half a line are those who provide women with the means of killing their unborn children, — a double crime, murder and suicide ? What are we to think of the moral impotence of almost all women to resist the tyranny of fashion, and the necessity that appears to rest upon them to copy every disfiguration invented by the harlots of Paris ? What are we to think of the want both of masculine and moral force in men, which makes them helpless against the extravagance of their households, to support which they do fifty years’ work in twenty, and then die ? What are we to think of the fact, that all the creatures living in the United States enjoy good health, except the human beings, who are nearly all ill ?

When we consider such things as these, we cannot help calling in question a kind of public teaching which leaves the people in ignorance of so much that they most need to know. Henry Ward Beecher is the only clergyman we ever heard who habitually promulgates the truth, that to be ill is generally a sin, and always a shame. We never heard him utter the demoralizing falsehood, that this present life is short and of small account, and that nothing is worthy of much consideration except the life to come. He dwells much on the enormous length of this life, and the prodigious revenue of happiness it may yield to those who comply with the conditions of happiness. It is his habit, also, to preach the duty which devolves upon every person, to labor for the increase of his knowledge and thegeneral improvement of his mind. We have heard him say on the platform of his church, that it was disgraceful to any mechanic or clerk to let such a picture as the Heart of the Andes be exhibited for twenty-five cents, and not go and see it. Probably there is not one honest clergyman in the country who does not fairly earn his livelihood by the good he does, or by the evil he prevents. But not enough good is done, and not enough evil prevented. The sudden wealth that has come upon the world since the improvement of the steam-engine adds a new difficulty to the life of millions. So far, the world does not appear to have made the best use of its too rapidly increased surplus. " We cannot sell a twelve-dollar book in this country,” said a bookseller to us the other day. But how easy to sell two-hundred-dollar garments ! There seems great need of something that shall have power to spiritualize mankind, and make head against the reinforced influence of material things. It may be that the true method of dealing with the souls of modern men has been, in part, discovered by Mr. Beecher, and that it would be well for persons aspiring to the same vocation to Begin their preparation by making a pilgrimage to Brooklyn Heights.