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He, who adopts it in the Desk, has forgotten, that his discourse is professedly derived from the Bible, employed about God, and directed to Eternity.
A trespass against this manner of preaching, not unfrequent, and highly reprehensible, is a mode, sometimes termed theatrical. It may be thus described. The preacher, if we may be allowed to judge from the result, sits down to write as finished a composition, and enters the Desk to speak it as gracefully, as he can. His commanding ohject is to please, to excite admiration, and to gain applause. His proper business is forgotten. This is, to awaken, convince, and save, his flock. He has 'carved out for himself a new employment, of which the Scriptures know nothing. This is, to exhibit himself to advantage. Instead, therefore, of the plain, bold, and solemn, address, with which divine truth is instinctively preached, the audience is amused with a combination of brilliant images, and pathetic effusions, intended merely to excite admiration. To increase this effect, they are presented to the audience with such efforts of utterance and gesture, as are usually exhibited on the Stage. In truth, the desk is here changed, for the time, into a stage: and the Preacher, laying aside his own character, puts on that of an Actor. Like other actors, he intends merely to please those who hear him. Their souls, and their salvation, his own character, duty, and final account, he has forgotten. He has forgotten his Bible : he has forgotten his God.
The most solemn, the best, sermons may be, they usually are, marked with strong images, bold, figurative language, and affecting addresses to the heart. The whole energy of the mind is poured out in them by the preacher. But in such sermons all these things are adventitious. They grow spontaneously out of the solemn, and most affecting nature of the subject, the preacher's deep sense of its vast importance, and his earnest desire that his audience may feel it, as it is felt by himself. Here the subject is the only thing which is prominent. The preacher is in a great measure forgotten both by himself and his hearers. In the mode which I have reprehended, the Preacher is the only conspicuous figure; while the diminutive suhject is faintly sketched, and scarcely seen, in the back ground of the picture.
5. The Gospel ought to be preached Earnestly.
Every thing, which is felt by the mind to be deeply interesting either to its own welfare, or to that of its fellow-men, is by the mere prompting of nature expressed with earnestness, both in writing and speaking. So universally true, and so obvious, is this, that he who does not thus express himself in this manner, is never supposed to be interested at all. Accordingly, men who wish to persuade others, that they feel, when they do not, are obliged to counterfeit this mode of nature; that they may thus be believed to feel. Hence all the assumed fervour of demagogues, separatical Preachers, and others of a corresponding character.
From this fact it is abundantly evident, that he, who would persuade others, that he is interested in the subjects, on which he descants, must originally feel them; and must also express his views of them in the native language of feeling. To a preacher, these rules are important in a degree which it will be difficult to estimate. The observance of them is necessary to convince his hearers, that he is an honest man. The truths of the Gospel are of such moment, as to render it impossible for him, who cordially believes them, to avoid being deeply interested; and, if thus interested, very difficult to fail of discovering that interest by the earnestness of thought, and utterance, in which it is naturally expressed. But a preacher of the Gospel, unless he prove the fact to be otherwise, is originally supposed to be deeply interested in its truths: and is regularly considered as professing by his very office cordially to believe them. If, then, he brings them forth to his congregation in a combination of cold sentiments, lifeless phraseology, and languid elocution; it will not be easy for them to be satisfied, that he feels what he professes to feel, or believes what he professes to believe.
Should he, however, escape this imputation, and, by a life of exemplary piety and beneficence, prove himself to be a good man; a case which, I acknowledge, has frequently existed; his preaching will, to a great extent, be still unhappy. If from the force of a phlegmatic constitution, or a habit of moving heavily in the concerns of life, he should have derived a dull, drawling mode of thinking, writing, and speaking, he will spread a similar languor over his hearers; and lull their moral powers, if not their natural ones, to sleep. They may believe him to be sincere ; but they will never feel as if he were in earnest. From such preaching, no energy of affection, no solemn concern, no active fears, no lively hopes, no vigorous resolutions, no strenuous efforts about the salvation of the soul, can be ordinarily derived ; and, certainly, can never be rationally expected.
He, on the contrary, who exhibits the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel in an earnest, fervid manner, will instinctively be regarded as being really in earnest. Religion from his mouth will appear as a concern of high moment; a subject, in which every man is deeply interested, about which he is obliged to employ the most solemn thoughts, and the most efficacious exertions. All who attend on his ministry, will go to inquire, to listen, to feel, to act, and to be fervently employed in practising their duty, and obtaining their salvation.
Let no young preacher think himself excused for a moment, in neglecting to acquire such a manner of preaching. Every preacher is hound to use all the means in his power for the purpose of rousing the attention, and engaging the affections, of his Rock to
these mighty objects. Much more, at the same time, is in his power than he will easily believe. A too modest distrust of their own talents in this respect is perhaps the chief reason, why the eloquence of the desk is in so many instances, less earnest, less animated, than a good man would always wish. All men will ac
. knowledge this to be unhappy : often, there is reason to fear, it is criminal also. For he who has not laboured as much as is in his power to preach well, in this respect, has certainly not laboured to preach as well as he can.
Young men have a peculiar interest in this subject. A preacher who is unanimated in youth, will be heavy in middle life, and torpid
in old age.
I know of no class of preachers, so prone to be defective in this particular, as those who are sometimes called Moral Preachers. By these I intend such as inculcate, not the morality of the Gospel, but such a course of external conduct, as merely secures a fair reputation, and renders the state of society agreeable: in other words, the morality of Zeno and Seneca. It is impossible that he who recommends this morality, and stops here, should be in earnest himself, or appear earnest to others.
6. The Gospel ought to be preached Affectionately,
No employment awakens, and calls into action, all the generous emotions of the mind more than that of the preacher. He comes to his fellow-men with a message infinitely more interesting, and more useful, than any other. He is sent on an errand, more expressive of tenderness and good-will. He comes to disclose the boundless mercy of God to mankind, as manifested in the condescension, life, and death, of the Redeemer; in the forgiveness of sin and the renovation of the soul ; in its safe conveyance through the dangers of this world, and its final admission into Heaven. This message he brings to his fellow-men, guilty and ruined in themselves, exposed to infinite danger, and hopeless suffering. What subjects can be equally affecting? What employment can equally awaken all the tenderness of virtue ?
An affectionate manner is in itself amiable and engaging. Men naturally love those, who appear benevolent and tender-hearted; and, most of all, require, and love, this character in a Minister of the Gospel. This character, or its opposite, can hardly fail to appear in his discourses. There are so many things in the subjects of his preaching, which naturally call forth tenderness and affection, that, if he possess this disposition, it cannot fail to appear in his sentiments, in his language, and in his manner of utterance. Wherever it appears, it will be acknowledged, and loved : and the words of a beloved preacher will always come to his flock with a peculiar power of persuasion.
There is one class of Scriptural subjects, about which I wish especially to warn those of my audience, who may one day become preachers of the Gospel. This class involves all those, which re
spect the anger of God against sin, and his denunciations against sinners : particularly the final judgment and retribution, and the future sufferings of the impenitent. It is no unfrequent thing to hear these subjects discussed in that strong language, and that vehement utterance, with which an impassioned speaker labours to express his own indignation, and to rouse that of his audience against atrocious crimes or invading enemies. Vehemence is not the manner of address, which is suited to subjects of this nature. The preacher ought to remember, that in disclosing the doom of the impenitent, he is, perhaps, pronouncing his own. How few, even of the best men, are assured of their safety! Were this objection removed, how foreign, how unfitted, (to say the least) is it to subjects so awful! I have heard sermons of this description. The emotions excited in my own mind, and abundantly expressed to me by others, were, I confess, a mixture of horror and disgust : feelings, from which good can hardly be expected in a case of this nature. I wish these subjects ever to be handled plainly and with. out disguise. Such a mode is equally essential to the integrity of the preacher, and the usefulness of his discourses. But I wish them to be always handled, also, with such a mixture of solemnity and affection, as shall wholly exclude vehemence on the one hand, and strongly exhibit tenderness on the other. The words of the preacher should be those of a guilty man to guilty men; of a dying man
a to dying men; of a man, who humbly hopes, that he has found pardon for himself
, and is most affectionately anxious, that his hearers may find the same blessings also.
There are two other subjects, which I think are often improperly handled in a different manner: a manner, which without much violence
may be styled too affectionate : viz. the Love, and Sufferings, of Christ. These, many preachers labour to describe with as much strength and tenderness, as possible. In their efforts to be peculiarly pathetic, they often exhibit such images, and adopt such expressions, as have ever appeared to me unsuited to the nature and dignity of the theme. The love of Christ was wonderful in its degree. But it was attended with a glory, and a sublimity, which repel all familiar views, all diminutive representations; and demand thoughts of the bighest reverence, and language of the highest elevation. All those epithets, which are applied with the utmost propriety and force to human tenderness and the soft affections of our race, are here, in my view, wholly misplaced. Even the epithet dear, when applied to the Saviour, although sanctioned in many Hymns; some of them written by persons of great repertability; has ever appeared to me too familiar, too collo1. too diminutive, to be applied to this exalted Person : so never either hear, or read, it without pain. At the same ny of the strong, impassioned exclamations, which are
ployed in endeavouring to make deep impressions conthe sufferings of the Saviour, produce, I acknowledge, on my own mind the contrary effects. The death of Christ ought never to be lamented in such language, as may very properly exhibit our feelings for the intense sufferings of a beloved child, or a darling friend. How differently has even St. Paul, who, among the writers of the New Testament, and David, who, among those of the Old, have expressed the strongest emotions concerning this affecting subject, exhibited, each, his own views ! Although they are intense, they are yet always dignified, and very often sublime.
7. The Gospel ought to be preached Acceptably. It is a common opinion, that all the censures, thrown out against what is said by an orthodox preacher, arise either from his want of talents, from some prejudice against the man, or from the hatred of the human heart to the truth which he utters. Either of these attributions, particularly the last, may serve as a convenient shelter for the preacher's faults; but is not a fair account of the fact. That the heart is naturally opposed to divine truth, and that those who declare it honestly are for this reason often censured, I have not a doubt. But the preacher not unfrequently occasions the censure by his own fault; and ought never to shun the blame, which he has merited.
Solomon has taught us, that a word fitly spoken is like apples, or citrons, of gold in a net-work of silver: a beautiful object beautifully exhibited, and therefore, making an impression remarkably delightful. Of Solomon, also, styled The preacher by the Spirit of God, it is recorded, that he sought to find out acceptable words ; and
; that, while writing a part of the Scriptural Canon. Who, with these considerations before him, can doubt, that this is universally the duty of such as preach the Gospel ?
But there are men, who in the desk appear to choose the character, and attitude, of Polemics. This character is sometimes rendered necessary, and is then defensible; but, when taken up of choice merely, is always disagreeable and disadvantageous.
There are others, who, when particular terms, or phrases, have become odious by being used, and marked, in the progress of a vehement dispute, adopt them still, either from choice or negligence; and thus warn their hearers, beforehand, to dislike whatever they are prepared to say.
A third class select a phraseology, calculated to persuade an audience, that they hold unheard of, and unwarrantable, opinions : when, if they would use customary language only, their tenets would be found to differ in nothing from those which are commonly received. In this manner the preacher alarms his hearers, not concerning their sin and danger, but concerning his own heresy; and occasions an opposition, literally causeless and useless.
Some attack, from the desk, such as have personally offended them; and thus make it a rostrum of satire and revenge ; instead of a pulpit, where the tidings of salvation are to be published.