THE MATTER, MANNER, AND SPIRIT OF PREACHING.
The exposition of the methods, and maxims, by which, homiletical discipline may best be acquired, demands, at its conclusion, some consideration of their practical application, in the actual work of the clerical profession. With what spirit ought the preacher to deliver his message? what should be its main drift, and lesson? how should the manner of his utterance compare with that of other professions? These are some of the questions, upon the right answer to which, depends very greatly the success of the clergyman. For, though his theory of Sacred Eloquence may be high, and true, yet a false spirit carried into his work, will vitiate all his science, and bring him short of his ideals. His great work, is to speak to the popular mind, upon the subject of religion, with a view to influence it, and, therefore, his oratorical efforts ought to be marked by that practical, and, so to speak, business-like manner, which is seen in the children of this world, who, in their generation, are oftentimes wiser than the children of light. The preacher has much to learn, from the legal profession. A lawyer goes into the court-room, in order to establish certain facts, and impress certain legal truths upon twelve men in the jury-box. He is, generally, an earnest and direct man. He may be somewhat diffuse and circuitous in his representations, but it will be found, that, in the end, he comes round to his case, and makes every thing bear upon the verdict which he desires. In like manner, the Christian ministei is to go into the pulpit, in order to establish certain facts in regard to God and man, and to impress certain religious truths upon all who come to hear him. He, too, ought to be marked by great energy and simplicity of aim. He should start upon his professional career, with a true and positive conception of the work before him. The theme, then, is a wide one, and in order to convey the particular thoughts which we would present, in the briefest and most concise manner possible, we propose to speak of the matter, the manner, and the spirit of preaching.
1. In respect to the matter, the ideas and truths, which the preacher shall bring before the popular mind, during the ten, twenty, or forty years in which he may address it, we affirm that he ought to confine himself to evangelical doctrine. If he is to err in regard to the range of subjects, let him err upon the safe side. It is undesirable, and unwise, for the pulpit to comprehend any thing more in its instructions, than that range of inspired truth which has for its object the salvation of the human soul. It is true, that Christianity has a connection with all truth; and so has astronomy. But it no more follows, that the Christian minister should 2:0 be
yond the fundamental principles of the gospel, and discuss all of their relations to science, art, and government, in his Sabbath discourses, than that the astronomer should leave his appropriate field of observation, and attempt to be equally perfect in all that can be logically connected with astronomy. Life is short, and art is long. In the secular sphere, it is conceded that the powerful minds are those who rigorously confine themselves to one department of thought. Newton cultivated science, and neglected literature. Kant wrought in the quicksilver mines of metaphysics for fifty years, and was happy and mighty in his one work. These men made epochs, because they did not career over the whole encyclopedia. And the same is true in the sphere of religion. The giants in theology have dared to let many books go unread, that they might be profoundly versed in Eevelation. And the mighty men in practical religion, the reformers, the missionaries, the preachers, have found in the dis-" fcinctively evangelical elements of Christianity, and their application to the individual soul, enough, and more than enough, to employ all their powers and enthusiasm.
The Christian minister is not obligated to run
out Christianity into all its connections and relations. . Neither he, nor the Church, is bound to watch over all the special interests of social, literary, political, and economical life. Something should be left to other men, and other professions; and something should be left to the providence of God. The Christian preacher can do more towards promoting the earthly and temporal interests of mankind, by indirection, than by direct efforts. That minister who limits himself, in his Sabbath, discourses, to the exhibition and enforcement of the doctrines of sin and grace, and whose preaching results in the actual conversion of human beings, contributes far more, in the long run, to the progress of society, literature, art, science, and civilization, than he does, who, neglecting these themes of sin and grace, makes a direct effort from the pulpit to "elevate society." In respect to the secular and. temporal benefits of the Christian religion, it is eminently true, that he that finds his life shall lose it. When the ministry sink all other themes in the one theme of the Cross, they are rewarded in a twofold manner: they see the soul of man born into the kingdom of God; and then, as an inevitable consequence, with which they had little to do directly, but which is taken care of by the providence of God, and the laws by which He administers his government in the earth, they also see arts, sciences, trade, commerce, and political prosperity, flowing in of themselves. They are willing to seek first th« kingdom of God and his righteousness, and find all these minor things,—infinitely minor things, wher compared with the eternal destiny of man,—added to them by the operation, not of the pulpit, or of the ministry, but of Divine laws and Divine providence. But, whenever the ministry sink the Cross, wholly or in part, in semi-religious themes, they are rewarded with nothing. They see, as the fruit of their labors, neither the conversion of the individual nor the prosperity of society. That unearthly sermonizing of Baxter, and Howe, so abstracted from, all the temporal and secular interests of man, so rigorously confined to human guilt and human redemption,—that preaching which, upon the face of it, does not seem even to recognize that man has any relations to this little ball of earth; which takes him off the planet entirely, and contemplates him simply as a sinner in the presence of God,— that preaching, so destitute of all literary, scientific, economical, and political elements and allusions,— was, nevertheless, by indirection, one of the most fertile causes of the progress of England and America. Subtract it as one of the forces of English history, and the career of the Anglo-Saxon race would be like that of Italy and Spain.
The preacher must dare to work upon this theory, and make and keep his sermons thoroughly evangelical, in their substantial matter. The* temptations are many, in the present age, to multiply topics, and to introduce themes into the pulpit, upon which Christ and his apostles never preached. It is enough that the disciple be as his master. And if the Son of God, possessing an infinite intelligence, and capable of comprehending, in his intuition, the whole abyss of truth, physical and moral, natural religion and revealed, all art, all science, all beauty, and all grandeur,—if the Son of God, the Omniscient One, was nevertheless reticent regarding the vast universe of truth that lay outside of the Christian scheme, and confined himself to that range of ideas which relate to sin and redemption,—then, who are we that we should venture beyon#nis limits, and counteract his example! \-S p
2. Secondly, in respect to the manner in which, the preacher is to address the popular mind, upon these fundamental truths of Christianity, he ought to use great directness of style and speech. The connection between the matter and the manner of a writer, is one of action and reaction. Clear, evangelical ideas favor lucid, earnest style. He who selects semi-religious topics, immediately begins to hyperbolize and elocutionize. No Demosthenean fire, no hearty idiomatic English, no union of energy and elegance, naturally issues when poetry is substituted for theology, and the truths of nature are put in the place of the doctrines of grace. A languid and diifuse manner, like that of moral essays, is the • utmost that can be attained upon this method.
And, on the other hand, a tendency to a direct, terse, vigorous mode of handling subjects, reacts upon the theological opinions of the preacher, and favors intensity and positiveness in his doctrinal views. Wordsworth, in conversing upon the style of a certain writer, which was peculiar and striking, remarked: "To be sure, it is the manner that gives him his power, but then, you know, the matter always comes out of the manner."1 This is reversing the common statement of the rhetorician, who is in the habit of saying, that the manner comes out of the matter. But it contains its side of truth. No man can cultivate and employ a vigorous, direct, and forcible rhetoric, without finding that he is driven to solid and earnest themes, in order to originate, and sustain it. Those slender and unsuggestive truths which lie outside of revelation, and which relate more to man's earthly than to his immortal nature, more, to his worldly than his eternal destiny, prove too weak for a powerful and commanding eloquence, and, thus, the rhetorician of an earnest and natural type is driven by his very idea of style, to those themes of sin, guilt, judgment, atonement, grace, and eternal glory, which constitute the substance of Christianity, and are full of immortal vigor and power.
As the preacher goes forth, to speak, it may be for twenty or forty years continuously, to his fellow immortals, upon the awful themes of eternity, let Mm weigh well every word he utters, and make it the direct exponent of a vivid and earnest thought. He lives in an age more inclined to sentiment, than to ideas. The vicious and meretricious manner of the fugitive magazine, and review, is, just now, influencing the public taste, more than the dense and powerful style of the classical standards. Let him pay special attention, therefore, to his own manner. He should be a plain, direct, terse, and bold orator. He must employ the rhetoric which Jael used upon Sisera, putting his nail to the head of his auditor, and driving it sheer and clear through his brain.
1 Emerson: English Traits, p. 294.
3. And, finally, in respect to the spirit with which the preacher should deliver his ideas, we sum up all that can be said upon this point, when we urge him to speak the truth in love. An affectionate spirit is the type, and the model, for the Christian herald. The greatest of the graces is charity. This we are toiling after all our days, and this comes latest and slowest into the soul. If those who have preached the word for years were called upon to specify the one particular, in respect to which they would have their ministry reconstructed, it would be their deficiency in this mellow, winning, heavenly trait of St. John. Perhaps they can say that they have been measurably positive, earnest, plain, and truthful preachers; but, alas! they cannot be so certain in their affirmation, that they have been affectionate heralds of the Lord Jesus. Their love for God's honor and glory, and
the welfare of the human soul, has been too faint and feeble. This is the weak, and not the strong side of their service in the pulpit.
It is well for the clergyman, to know this in the outset of his ministry, so that his efforts may be directed accordingly. That trait in which the human soul is most deficient, because it is most directly contrary to human selfishness,—that Christian trait which is the most difficult, both to originate and to maintain,—is, certainly, the one that should be before the eye of the Chiistian minister, from, the beginning of his course. Other traits, unless toned down by this one, are liable to run into extremes that become positive faults. The preacher's lucid energy, for example, unless tempered by a tender affectionateness, may issue in an exasperating.vehemence that defeats all the ends of preaching, and renders it impossible to " persuade" men to become reconciled to God, or even to "beseech" them to become so.
The preacher, then, must cultivate in himself, a genuine and sincere affection for man as man, for man as sinful and lost, and for God as the blessed and adorable Saviour of man. And, among the several means of educating himself in this direction, none is more effectual, than that strict confinement of his mind and heart to evangelical themes, which we have already recommended. If he would feel love for man's soul, he must distinctly see how precious the soul is by its origin, and how deeply wretched and lost it is by its sin. If he would feel love towards God as the Redeemer of man, he must distinctly see how great a self-sacrifice He has made, in order to the remission and removal of man's sin. If such topics as these are the infrequent themes of his study and sermonizing,—if they are crowded out by other topics, which have no direct tendency to fill him with tender emotions in reference to God and man, but, on the contrary, puff up with pride, or perhaps lead to an undervaluation of evangelical doctrine,—then, he cannot be an affectionate preacher. He will never be able to say, as St. Paul did of himself, in reference to the Thessalonians: "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us."1
Of all the New Testament truths, none is equal to the doctrine of forgiveness through the blood of the dying Lord, in eliciting this divine and holy love. And therefore the preacher's meditation must be much upon this, and his speech very frequent upon it. The Roman Catholic theologians, in their classification of the gifts and graces of the believer, mention the domim lachrymarum, the heavenly gift of tears. By it, they mean, that tender contrition of soul which weeps bitterly, like Peter, under the poignant recollection of transgression, and the sweet sense of its forgiveness. It is that free and outgushing sorrow, which flows from the strange unearthly consciousness of being vile, when tried by a perfect standard, and yet, of being the justified and adopted child of God. It is that relief which a Christian man craves for himself, when, after much meditation upon his sin, he still finds the heart is hard, and the soul is parched with, inward heat that "turns the moisture into the drought of summer.1' This gift of tears is most intimately connected with the gift of love. From that soul which is forgiven much, and whose consciousness of the Divine mercy flows in the tears of the Magdalen, there issues a most profound affection. "We love the soul of man, and are willing to toil and suffer for its welfare, when we are melted down in gratitude and affection, because we have ourselves been forgiven.
1 1 Thess. ii, 7, 8.
If, therefore, the Christian preacher would suffuse his thoughts with that yearning charity which St. Paul describes, let him live in the light of the Cross; let him feel the virtue of expiating bloocl in his conscience. The immediate intuition of the great Atonement, arms the preacher with a wonderful tenderness and power of entreaty. Other doctrines are powerful, but this carries him beyond himself, and fills him with a deathless affection for God, and the soul of man, that seems madness itself to the natural mind. Whitefield's, Sumuiei field's, and McCheyne's glowing, and seraphic fervor, was inspired almost wholly by this single truth. And what a pathetic earnestness, what a tender and gentle sympathy, ever mingled with the strong flood-tide of Chalmers' emotion, after that memorable sickness, when he sat for weeks upon the "brink of eternity, and there, in the face of endless doom and death, obtained the first clear, calming view of his dying Redeemer.
The age and condition of the world demand ministers of this type. The.preacher of this age is appointed to proclaim the gospel, at a period, vwhen the Christian religion and church are assailed by materialism in the masses, and skepticism in the cultivated. These are the two foes of Christ, whose presence he will feel wherever he goes. He will meet them in Christendom, and he will meet them in Paganism. It looks, now, as if Anti-Christ were making his final onset. Let him, therefore, adopt a positive method. He should not waste his strength, in standing upon the defensive. Christianity is not so much in need of apologetic, as of aggressive efforts. State its doctrines with plainness, and they will hold their ground. Fuse them in the fire of personal conviction, and utter them with the con fidence of an immediate perception, and they will not need the support of collateral argument. They are their own evidence, when once enunciated, and lodged in the conscience of man; as much so, aa the axioms of science.
The Christian herald should go forth with faith and hope, remembering that the gospel of the Son of God is the only system that is not subject to fashions, and changes. It is the same now, that it was when St. Paul carried it to Athens, and St. John taught it in Ephesus. It will be the same system down to the end of the world. He is to be a co-worker with a mighty host in the rear, and another mighty host in the front. Why should he not be courageous, standing, as he does, in the centre of a solid column, whose ranks are closed up, and which presents an impregnable front from whatever side the foe may approach? And why should he not be the boldest, and most commanding of orators, when he remembers, still more, that the gospel of the Son of God is the only system of truth, for whose triumph the Eternal One is pledged? He hath sworn by Himself, and the word has gone out of his mouth in righteousness, and shall not return: "Unto Him every knee shall bow." 17