S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
As Sir Roger was going on in his story, the gentleman we were talking of came up to us; and upon the knights asking him who preached to-morrow (for it was Saturday night), told us, the bishop of St. Asaph in the morning, and Dr. South in the afternoon. He then showed us his list of preachers for the whole year, where I saw with a great deal of pleasure Archbishop Tillotson, Bishop Saunderson, Dr. Barrow, Dr. Calamy, with several living authors who have published discourses of practical divinity . I could heartily wish that more of our country clergy would follow this example; and instead of wasting their spirits in laborious compositions of their own, would endeavour after a handsome elocution, and all those other talents that are proper to enforce what has been penned by great masters. This would not only be more easy to themselves, but more edifying to the people.
It is very possible (to add that upon the bye) that after the light of the moon has (according to what I have lately noted) represented to our contemplator the qualifications of a preacher, it may also put him in mind of the duty of a hearer.
That a man stand and speak of spiritual things to men! It is beautiful;even in its great obscuration and decadence, it is among the beautifullest, most touching objects one sees on the earth. This Speaking Man has indeed, in these times, wandered terribly from the point; has alas, as it were, totally lost sight of the point: yet, at bottom, whom have we to compare with him? Of all public functionaries boarded and lodged on the Industry of Modern Europe, is there one worthier of the board he has? A man even professing, and, never so languidly, making still some endeavour, to save the souls of men: contract him with a man professing to do little but shoot the partridges of men! I wish he could find the point again, this Speaking One, and stick to it with tenacity, with deadly energy; for there is need of him yet! The Speaking Functionthis of Truth coming to us with a living voice, nay, in a living shape, and as a concrete practical exemplar; this, with all our Writing and Printing Functions, has a perennial place. Could he but find the point again,take the old spectacles off his nose, and looking up discover, almost in contact with him, what the real Satanas, and soul-devouring, world-devouring Devil, Now is.
Oh, the unspeakable littleness of a soul which, intrusted with Christianity, speaking in Gods name to immortal beings, with infinite excitements to the most enlarged, fervent love, sinks down into narrow self-regard, and is chiefly solicitous of its own honour!
In pulpit eloquence the grand difficulty lies here,to give the subject all the dignity it so fully deserves, without attaching any importance to ourselves. The Christian messenger cannot think too highly of his prince, nor too humbly of himself. This is that secret art which captivates and improves an audience, and which all who see will fancy they could imitate; while most who try will fail.
A young raw preacher is a bird not yet fledged, that hath hopped out of his nest to be chirping on a hedge, and will be struggling abroad at what peril soever. The pace of his sermon is a full career, and he runs wildly over hill and dale till the clock stop him. The labour of it is chiefly in his lungs; and the only thing he has made in it himself is the faces. His action is all passion, and his speech interjections. He has an excellent faculty in bemoaning the people, and spits with a very good grace. His style is compounded of twenty several mens, only his body imitates some one extraordinary. He will not draw his handkerchief out of his place, nor blow his nose without discretion. His commendation is that he never looks upon book; and indeed he was never used to it. He preaches but once a year, though twice on Sunday; for the stuff is still the same, only the dressing a little altered; he has more tricks with a sermon than a tailor with an old cloak, to turn it, and piece it, and at last quite disguise it with a new preface. If he have waded further in his profession, and would show reading of his own, his authors are postils, and his school-divinity a catechism.
Should we hear a continued oration upon such a subject as the stage treats on, in such words as we hear some sermons, I am confident it would not only be far more tedious, but nauseous and contemptful.
By hearing him [Whitefield] often, I came to distinguish easily between sermons newly composed, and those which he had often preached in the course of his travels. His delivery of the latter was so improved by frequent repetition, that every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice was so perfectly well turned and well placed, that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse; a pleasure of much the same kind with that received from an excellent piece of music. This is an advantage itinerant preachers have over those who are stationary, as the latter cannot well improve their delivery of a sermon by so many rehearsals.
Reasons are the pillars of the fabric of a sermon, but similitudes are the windows which give the best light. The faithful minister avoids such stories whose mention may suggest bad thoughts to the auditors, and will not use a light comparison to make thereof a graven application, for fear lest his poison go further than his antidote.
There are but few talents requisite to become a popular preacher; for the people are easily pleased if they perceive any endeavours in the orator to please them; the meanest qualifications will work this effect if the preacher sincerely sets about it. Perhaps little, indeed very little, more is required than sincerity and assurance; and a becoming sincerity is always certain of producing a becoming assurance. Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum tibi ipsi, is so trite a quotation that it almost demands an apology to repeat it; yet though all allow the justice of the remark, how few do we find put it in practice! Our orators, with the most faulty bashfulness, seem impressed rather with an awe of their audience, than with a just respect for the truths they are about to deliver: they, of all professions, seem the most bashful, who have the greatest right to glory in their commission.
The French preachers generally assume all that dignity which becomes men who are ambassadors from Christ; the English divines, like erroneous envoys, seem more solicitous not to offend the court to which they are sent, than to drive home the interests of their employer.
Their discourses from the pulpit are generally dry, methodical, and unaffecting: delivered with the most insipid calmness; insomuch that should the peaceful preacher lift his head over the cushion, which alone he seems to address, he might discover his audience, instead of being awakened to remorse, actually sleeping over this methodical and laboured composition.
It will be perhaps objected, that by confining the excellences of a preacher to proper assurance, earnestness, and openness of style, I make the qualifications too trifling for estimation; there will be something called oratory brought up on this occasion; action, attitude, grace, elocution, may be repeated as absolutely necessary to complete the character: but let us not be deceived: common sense is seldom swayed by fine tones, musical periods, just attitudes, or the display of a white handkerchief; oratorial behaviour, except in very able hands indeed, generally sinks into awkward and paltry affectation.
A hard and unfeeling manner of denouncing the threatenings of the word of God is not only barbarous and inhuman, but calculated, by inspiring disgust, to rob them of all their efficacy. If the awful part of our message, which may be styled the burden of the Lord, ever fall with due weight on our hearers, it will be when it is delivered with a trembling hand and faltering lips; and we may then expect them to realize its solemn import when they perceive that we ourselves are ready to sink under it. Of whom I have told you before, said St. Paul, and now tell you weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. What force does that affecting declaration derive from these tears! An affectionate manner insinuates itself into the heart, renders it soft and pliable, and disposes it to imbibe the sentiments and follow the impulse of the speaker. Whoever has attended to the effect of addresses from the pulpit must have perceived how much of their impression depends upon this quality, which gives to sentiments comparatively trite a power over the mind beyond what the most striking and original conceptions possess without it.
Robert Hall: Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Minister.
For the instruction of all men to eternal life it is necessary that the sacred and saving truth of God be openly published unto them, which open publication of heavenly mysteries is by an excellency termed preaching.
There prevailed in those days an indecent custom; when the preacher touched any favourite topic in a manner that delighted his audience, their approbation was expressed by a loud hum, continued in proportion to their zeal or pleasure.
Tillotson still keeps his place as a legitimate English classic. His highest flights were indeed far below those of Taylor, of Barrow, and of South; but his oratory was more correct and equable than theirs. No quaint conceits, no pedantic quotations from Talmudists and scholiasts, no mean images, buffoon stories, scurrilous invectives, ever marred the effect of his grave and temperate discourses. His reasoning was just sufficiently profound and sufficiently refined to be followed by a popular audience with that slight degree of intellectual exertion which is a pleasure. His style is not brilliant; but it is pure, transparently clear, and equally free from levity and from the stiffness which disfigures the sermons of some eminent divines of the seventeenth century.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hist. of Eng., ch. xiv.
If a cause the most important that could be conceived were to be tried at the bar before qualified judges; if this cause interested ourselves in particular; if the eyes of the whole kingdom were fixed upon the event; if the most eminent counsel were employed on both sides; and if we had heard from our infancy of this yet undetermined trial; would you not all sit with due attention, and warm expectation, to the pleadings on each side? Would not all your hopes and fears be hinged upon the final decision? And yet, let me tell you, you have this moment a cause of much greater importance before you; a cause where not one nation, but all the world, are spectators; tried not before a fallible tribunal, but the awful throne of Heaven; where not your temporal and transitory interests are the subject of debate, but your eternal happiness or misery; where the cause is still undetermined, but perhaps the very moment I am speaking may fix the irrevocable decree that shall last forever; and yet, notwithstanding all this, you can hardly sit with patience to hear the tidings of your own salvation: I plead the cause of Heaven, and yet I am scarcely attended to.
Public preaching indeed is the gift of the Spirit, working as best seems to his secret will; but discipline is the practic work of preaching directed and applied, as is most requisite, to particular duty: without which it were all one to the benefit of souls, as it would be to the cure of bodies, if all the physicians in London should get into the several pulpits of the city, and, assembling all the diseased in every parish, should begin a learned lecture of pleurisies, palsies, lethargies, to which perhaps none then present were inclined; and so, without so much as feeling one pulse, or giving the least order to any skilful apothecary, should dismiss them from time to time, some groaning, some languishing, some expiring, with this only charge, to look well to themselves, and do as they hear.
John Milton: Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy.
I cannot get over the prejudice of taking some little offence at the clergy for perpetually reading their sermons; perhaps my frequent hearing of foreigners, who never make use of notes, may have added to my disgust.
I know a gentleman who made it a rule in reading to skip over all sentences where he spied a note of admiration at the end. If those preachers who abound in epiphonemas would but look about them, they would find one part of their congregation out of countenance, and the other asleep, except perhaps an old female beggar or two in the aisles; who, if they be sincere, may probably groan at the sound.
Fuller, our church-historian, having occasion to speak of some famous divine that had lately died, exclaims, O the painfulness of his preaching! The words are a record not of the pain which he caused to others, but of the pains which he bestowed himself: and I believe, if we had more painful preachers in the old sense of the word, that is, who took pains themselves, we should have fewer painful ones in the modern sense, who cause pain to their hearers.
Their business is to address all the ranks of mankind, and persuade them to pursue and persevere in virtue with regard to themselves, in justice and goodness with regard to their neighbours, and piety towards God.
He considers what is the natural tendency of such a virtue, or such a vice: he is well apprised that the representations of some of these things may convince the understanding, some may terrify the conscience, some may allure the slothful, and some encourage the desponding mind.