Chapter II



Homiletics is the terra that has been chosen to denote the application of the principles of rhetoric to preaching. It is synonymous, consequently, with Sacred Rhetoric. The derivation of the word from the Greek verb ofi&elv shows that the primary purpose of the homily or sermon was instruction. The first sermons were, undoubtedly, much more didactic than rhetorical in their form and substance. This must have been so for several reasons. In the first place, the assemblies to which the sermon was first addressed were more private and social in their character, than the modern congregation. Christianity was in its infancy, and had not become an acknowledged and public . religion; and hence its ordinances and instructions were isolated from those of society at large. It was one of the principal charges brought against Christianity by its first opponents, that it was unsocial, exclusive, and sectarian. The Roman

complained that the Christian, so far as religion was concerned, was not an integral part of the state, but was a morose, solitary, and unpatriotic


The first Christian congregation being1 thus

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small, thus isolated and private, it was natural that the style of address upon the part of the preacher should be more familiar than it can be before a large audience, and upon a strictly public occasion. Hence the sermon in the early history of the Church was much more homiletical, that is, conversational, than rhetorical in its character. Like those free and familiar lectures which the modern preacher delivers to a limited audience, on the evening of a secular day, the first sermons possessed fewer of those oratorical elements which enter so largely into the discourses that are now prepared for the great congregation in the house of public worship, and on the Sabbath, the great public day of Christendom.

In the second place, the first sermons were naturally and properly more didactic than rhetorical, because the principal work to which the first preachers of Christianity were summoned was instruction. The cardinal doctrines of Christianity were not, as they are now, matters of general knowledge. The public mind was preoccupied with the views and notions of polytheism, and with altogether false conceptions of the nature and principles of the Christian religion; and henc« there was unusual need, daring the first centuries of the Church, to indoctrinate the Greek and Roman world. Expository instruction was, consequently, the first great business of the Christian herald, coupled with an effort to disabuse the human mind of those errors to which it was enslaved by a false religious system. Christianity at first was compelled to address itself to the understandings of men, in order to prepare the way for an address to their hearts and wills; and hence its first discourses were rather didactic than oratorical. And the same remark holds true of missionary preaching in the modern world. The missionary repeats the process of the primitive preacher. His audiences are not public, but private. His addresses are more conversational than oratorical; more for purposes of instruction than of persuasion. From these two causes, the sermon was originally an instructive conversation (t^u/lia) rather than an oration.

1 Taoittts: Annalium,' xv. 44. quam odio humani gencrii con Christianorura multitude ingens victi suut. limid proiude in crimine incendii

But although the relations of the modern preacher are considerably different from those of the ancient; although the Christian preacher is much more a public man than he was at first, because Christianity is the public religion of the modern world, and the Christian sabbath is its public holy day, and the Christian congregation is its public religions assembly; although Homiletics has necessarily become more strictly rhetorical in its character because the sermon has become more oratorical in its form and style; we must recognize and acknowledge the fact that Sacred Rhetoric is in its own nature more didactic than Secular. With alJ the change in the relations of Christianity to society and to the state, and with all the corresponding change in the circumstances and position of the preacher, it is still true that one very important part of his duty is that of exegetical instruction. Though the modern world is, generally speaking, speculatively acquainted with the Christian system, and does not need that minute instruction, and that deliverance from the errors of polytheism, which the pagan world requires, still the natural man everywhere and in all ages needs indoctrination. The sermon must be a preceptive discourse, and the information of the mind must be one of the chief ends of Sacred Eloquence.

This biings us to the principal difference between Secular and Sacred Rhetoric. The latter is more didactic than the former. We are speaking comparatively, it will be remembered. We would not be understood as granting the position of some writers upon Homiletics, that there is a distinction in kind between Secular and Sacred Rhetoric,—that the didactic element enters so largely into the sermon that the properly rhetorical <>V raents are expelled from it, and it thus loses the oratorical character altogether. The sermon is not an essay or a treatise. It is an address to an audience, like a secular oration. Its purpose, like that of the secular oration, is to influence the will and conduct of the auditor. Like the secular oration, it is a product of all the powers of the human mind in the unity of their action, and not of the imagination alone, or of the understanding alone; and like the secular oration it addresses all the faculties of the hearer, ending with a movement of his will. The distinction between Secular and Sacred Rhetoric is not one of kind, but of degree. In the sermon, there is less of the purely oratorical element than in secular orations, because of the greater need of exposition and instruction. The sermon calls for more argumentation, more narration, more doctrinal information, than secular discourses contain, and hence, speaking comparatively, Secular Rhetoric is more purely and highly rhetorical than Homiletics.

Hence, as matter of fact, the sermon is more solid and weighty in its contents, more serious and earnest in its tone, and more sober in its coloring, than the deliberative, or judicial, or panegyrical oration of Secular Eloquence. It is a graver production, less dazzling in its hues, less striking in its style, less oratorical in its general character. Recurring to the distinction between the formal and the real sciences, we might say that Secular Eloquence partakes more of the former, and Sacred Eloquence more of the latter.1

With this brief elucidation of the distinctive nature of Homiletics. we proceed now to consider a few reasons for its cultivation.

1. The first reason is derived from the intrinsic dignity and importance of the sermon as a species of literature. For if we have regard to the subject matter and the end in view, the sacred oration is the most grave and weighty of all intellectual productions. The eternal salvation of the human soul, through the presentation of divine truth, is the end of preaching. The created mind is never employed so loftily and so worthily, as when it is bending all its powers, and co-working with God himself, to the attainment of this great purpose. A discourse that accomplishes this aim is second to no species of authorship, in intrinsic dignity and importance. Other species of literature may decline in interest and value as the redemption of the human race advances, but this species will steadily tend to its culmination. As the human intellect shall come more and more under the influence of those great ideas which relate to God and eternity, public religious discourse will gain in power and impressiveness, because of the immortal ends which it has in view. Like the Christian grace of charity, which will outlive prophecies, and tongues, and knowledge Sacred Eloquence will outlive, or rather transform into its own likeness, all other forms of literature.

's Rhetoric (Introductory Essay, p. 3D, sj.).

Not that philosophy, and poetry, and history will cease to exist as departments of intellectual effort so long as the human race continues in this mode of being, but they will all take on a more solemn character, and assume a more serious and lofty end, whereby they will approximate more and more, in spirit and influence, to the literature proper of the Christian Church,—to the parables of our Lord, the epistles of his apostles, the sermons of his ministers. "For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." In this way, the superior dignity and importance of the sermon will appear, inasmuch as through the influence which it will have exerted upon the thinking of the race, the literature of the world will have become spiritualized and sanctified. Through the preaching of the Gospel, and the leavening of the mind with divine truth, we may expect to see the same great end, the glory of God in the eternal well-being of man, set up as the goal of universal letters. Whether, then, there be poetry it may fail, whether there be philosophy it may cease, whether there be literature it may vanish away; but the word of God liveth and abideth forever. There will be an ever-enduring dignity and value in that species of intellectual productions whose great end is the indoctrination of the human mind in the truths of divine revelation.

"We find, therefore, in the gravity and importance of the sacred oration, a strong reason why the homiletic art should be most assiduously cultivated. The philosopher is urged up to deep and laborious study, by the weight and solidity of his department. He feels that it is worthy of his best intellectual efforts, and he is willing to dedicate his whole life to it. The poet adores his art for its intrinsic nobleness and beauty, and like Milton is ambitious to glorify it by some product that shall be the most "consummate act of its author's fidelity and ripeness; the result of all his considerate diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expense of palladian oil." The historian spends long years in building up, from the solid foundation to the light.and airy pinnacle, a structure that shall render Ins own name historic and associate it with the dignity of history. And shall the sacred orator be less influenced than these intellectual workmen, by the nobleness and worth of his vocation? Ought he not, like the greatest of the apostolic preachers, to magnify his vocation, and feel all the importance of the department, in which he has been called to labor with his brain and with his heart?

2. A second reason for cultivating Homiletics is derived from the intrinsic difficulty of producing an excellent sermon. In the first place, there is the difficulty which pertains to the department of rhetoric generally, arising from the fact, that in order to the production of eloquence all the faculties of the mind must be in operation together, and concurring to an outward practical end. In the production of a work of art, the imagination, aa a single faculty, is allowed to do its perfect work unembarrassed by other faculties. The idea of the Beautiful is not confused or obscured by a reference to other ideas, such as the True, the Useful, and the Good. The productive agency in this case is single, uncomplex, and exerted in one straight unhindered course. In the production of a purely logical or speculative product, again, the theoretic reason, as a single faculty, is allowed to do its rigorous work, unembarrassed by either the imagination or the moral sense. The philosophic essay is a product which contains but one element, and that the speculative, and hence is far easier to originate, than one in which many dissimilar elements,—speculative and practical, imaginative and moral,—are mingled, and which must, moreover, be made to amalgamate with each other.

The oration, on the other hand, whether secular or sacred, has a far more difficult origin than either of the above-mentioned productions. All the faculties of understanding, imagination, and feeling, must be in exercise together; while above, and beneath, and around, and through them all, must be the agency of that highest and most important of all the human faculties, the will, the character

the moral force of the man. In the origination of the oration, there must be not only the co-agency of all the cognitive, imaginative and pathetic powers, but the presence and the presidency in and through them all of that deepest and most central power in which, as the seat of personality and of character, they are all rooted and grounded. The oration, in this view, is not so much a product of the man, as it is the man himself,—an embodiment of all his faculties and all his processes.1 From the general character of the department of rhetoric, then, and the general nature of its products, the origination of an excellent sacred oration is exceedingly Difficult, and hence the need of a profound and philosophic study of Homileties, or the art of Sermonizing. In the second place, the production of the sermon is a difficult work, because of the nature and extent of the influence which it aims to exert. The sermon is designed to produce an effect upon human character; and this, not upon its mere superficies, but its inmost principles. Unlike discourse, the sacred oration is not content with, influencing men in regard to some particular or particulars of conduct, but aims at the whole nat'ire of the man. The political orator is content, if by his effort he secures an individual vote for a single measure. The judicial orator is content, if he can obtain a favorable verdict respecting the case in hand. The sacred orator, on the other hand, aims at the formation of an entire character, —at laying a foundation for an innumerable series of particular actions, —• or else he endeavors to mould and develop from the centre a character which is already in existence, as when he addresses the Church in distinction from the congregation. If we have regard to the renewal of human nature, the formation within the human soul of entirely new principles of action, it is plain that the construction of a discourse adapted to produce this great effect involves many and great difficulties. It is true, that the first and efficient cause of this effect must be sought in the special and direct operation upon the individual soul of a higher Being than man. Yet it is equally true, that the secondary instrumental cause of this renewal is divine truth presented by the preacher. There must, therefore, be an adaptation between the cause and the effect, in this case as much as in any other. Second causes must be adapted to the effect as much as first causes. There is a mode of presenting divine truth which is suited to produce conversion; and there is a mode which is not suited to this end. There is a method of sermonizing which is adapted to develop the Christian character, and there is a method which is not at all adapted to this. Now, to produce a discourse which, in all its parts and properties, shall fall in with the operations of the Holy Spirit, and of the human spirit when under divine influence,—which shall not blind the mind, nor impede the flow of the feelings, but shall concur with all that higher influence which is bearing upon the sinner in the work of regeneration, or upon the Christian in the hour and process of sanctification,—to produce an excellent sermon is one of the most arduous attempts of the human intellect. To assert that the attempt can be a successful one without study and training upon the part of the preacher, is to deal differently with the department of Sacred Rhetoric, from what we do with other departments of intellectual effort. It is to treat the higher and eternal interests of men, with more thoughtlessness and indifference than we do their lower and secular interests. None,—unless it be those half-educated persons who do not recognize the distinction between science and practice, between a profession and a trade, and who would annihilate all professional study and training,—none, unless it be such as these, deny the importance of a thorough discipline on the part of the jurist and the civilian. It is acknowledged, generally, chat learning and culture are requisite to the production of successful pleading in court, and successful debating in the senate. And no one who seriously considers the depth and comprehensiveness of the aim of a sermon, and takes into account that sermonizing is not an intermitfcent effort, but a steady, uniform process, week after week, and year after year, will be disposed to disparage or undervalue homiletic discipline or the homiletic art. Says one of the earliest and pithiest English writers upon Homiletics: "Preachers have enough to do, and it will take up their whole time to do it well. This is not an art that is soon learnt, this is not an accomplishment that is easily gained. He that thinks otherwise, is as weak and foolish as the man that married Tully's widow (saith Dio) to be master of his eloquence."1

1 Le style, c'est 1'homme.—Buffon.

The difficulty, in the third place, of constructing an excellent sermon is clearly apparent, when we consider the nature of the impression which is sought to be made. Without taking into

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account such characteristics as distinctness and depth of impression, and many others that would suggest themselves, let us seize upon a single one,—namely, permanence of impression,—and by a close examination perceive the need of understanding, both theoretically and practically, the art of Sermonizing.

The test of excellence in a sermon is continuance of influence. By this, it is not meant that an excellent sermon produces no more impression at the time of its first delivery than afterwards. Often the vividness of a discourse is most appa. rent at the time of its origin, because it was partly the fruit of temporary circumstances, and derived something of its force from time and place. Yet, after this is said, it is still true, that no sermon is truly excellent which does not contain something of permanent value for the human head and heart. It must have such an idea or proposition at the bottom of it, and be arranged ou such a method, and be filled up with such reflections, and inspired with such a spirit, as will make it an object of interest for any thoughtful mind in all time. It is true, that tried by this test, many sermons would be found wanting,—and. far more of such sermons as draw miscellaneous crowds, and are fit only to be printed in a newspaper, than of such as are preached to attentive audiences, and are unknown save by the solid Christian character Avhich they help to originate, or to cultivate,—it is true, that tried by the test of permanency of impression, the sacred, as well as the secular oration would often be found defective, and yet every such discourse ought to be subjected to it. One of the first questions to be asked, for purposes of criticism, is this question: Is there in this discourse a solidity, and thoughtfulness, which gives it more or less of permanent value for the human mind?

1 John Edwards: The Preacher, Pt. I., p. 274.

Now it is impossible that this weighty intellectual character, conjoined as it must be in the oration with a lively and rhetorical tone, should

be attained without a very thorough discipline on the part of the preacher. The union of such sterling, and yet opposite, qualities as thoughtfulness and energy, is the fruit of no superficial 1 education, the result of no mere desultory efforts. The sacred orator needs not only a general culture, but a special culture in his own art. It ia not enough that he be acquainted with those leading departments in which every educated, and especially every professional man, is interested; he must also be master of that specific art and department, upon which the clerical profession is more immediately founded. He must be well versed in the principles and practice of Homiletica. Otherwise, his sermonizing will be destitute of both a present and a permanent interest. If he be a man of learning and of reflective habits, but of no rhetorical spirit, although his discourses may be weighty in matter, and, as theological disquisitions, very meritorious, they will not produce the proper immediate effects of sacred eloquence, and neither will they exert the permanent influence of theological treatises. They will fail altogether as intellectual productions. The studious, thoughtful mind especially needs the influence of homiletical discipline, in order to prepare it for the work of addressing and influencing the popular audience. There is a method of so organizing the materials in the mind, of so arranging, and expanding, and illustrating truth, as to exert the immediate impression of rhetoric, united with the permanent impression of logic and philosophy. This method can be acquired only by the study and the practice of the art of Sermonizing.

3. A third reason for cultivating Homiletics is found, in the increasingly higher demands made by the popular mind, upon its public religious teachers.

It is more difficult to make a permanent popular impression now, than it was fifty years ago. The public mind is more distracted, than it was then. It is addressed more frequently, and by a greater variety, both of subjects and of speakers. It is more critical and fastidious than formerly. It is possessed, we will not say of a more thorough and useful knowledge on a few subjects, but of a more extensive and various information on many subjects. The man of the present day knows more of men and things in general, than his forefathers did, though probably not more of man and of some things in particular.

There is more call, consequently, in the present age, for a sermonizing that shall cover the whole field of human nature and human acquirements that shall contain a greater variety and exhibit a greater compass, and that shall be adapted to more grades and capacities. The preacher of the present day needs to be a man of wider culture than his predecessor, because the boundaries of human, knowledge have been greatly enlarged, and because his auditors have come to be acquainted, some of them thoroughly and some of them supei.ficially but all of them in some degree, with this new and constantly widening field. Consider a single section of rhetoric like that of metaphor and illustration, and see how much greater is the stock of materials now, than it was previous to the modern discoveries in natural science, and how even the popular mind has become possessed of sufficient knowledge in these departments, not merely to understand the orator's allusions and representations, but to demand them of him. A modern audience, though it may not possess a very exact knowledge of what has been accomplished in modern science, is yet possessed of sufficient information to detect any such ignorance in a public speaker, and especially in the preacher, as shows him to be inferior to the educated class to which he belongs, and behind the present condition of human culture and knowledge. It was urged not many years since, by the classes of a teacher who had been distinguished in his day, and whose instructions still exhibited a solid and real excellence that ought to have overruled the objection in this instance, that he had not kept up with the literary and scientific movement of the modern mind; that his style of presenting, establishing, and illustrating truth had become obsolete, although the truth itself which he taught was unobjectionable. In proof of this, it was affirmed that certain illustrations which were taken from the astronomy that existed a century ago, but which had been rendered not only incorrect but absurd by more recent discoveries, were still allowed to stand. It was complained that rhetoric, in this instance, had been vitiated by the telescope. The popular mind, also, is nice and fastidious, and will immediately detect any appearance of deficiency in literary and scientific culture in the preacher, especially if it affects his style and diction, and will give it far more weight than it is really entitled to.

But to take a more important part of Sacred Rhetoric than style, or diction, or illustration, consider for a moment the method and arrangement of a sermon, and see what a difficult task the popular mind of the present day imposes upon its public religious teachers.

The greatest difference between the men of the present day and their forefathers consists in the greater distinctness, and rapidity, of their mental processes. They are not more serious and thoughtful than their ancestors, but they are more vivid, animated, and direct in their thinking than they were. They are more impatient of prolixity, of a loose method of arrangement, and of a heavy dragging movement in the exhibition of truth. Audieuces a century ago would patiently listen to discourses of two hours in length, and would follow the sermonizer through a series of divisions and


subdivisions that would be intolerable to a modern hearer. The human intellect seems to have shared in that increased rapidity of motion which has been imparted to matter, by the modern improvements in machinery. The human body is now carried < through space at the rate of a mile a minute, and 'the human mind seems to have learned to keep pace with this increase of speed. Mental operations are on straight lines, like the railroad and telegraph, and are far more rapid than they once were. The public audience now craves a short method, a distinct sharp statement, and a rapid and accelerating t movement, upon the part of its teachers.

Now the preacher can meet this demand successfully, only by and through a strong methodizing power. He cannot meet it by mere brevity. The popular mind still needs and craves instruction, and, impatient as it is of dullness, will listen with more pleasure to a discourse that possesses solid excellence, though it be tedious in its method and somewhat dull in style, than to a discourse which has no merit but that of shortness. The task, therefore, which the sacred orator of the present day has to perform, is to compress the greatest possible amount of matter into the smallest possible form, and in the most energetic possible manner Multum in parvo is now the popular maxim. Plurimum in minimo must now be the preacher's maxim. Hence he must possess the power of seizing instantaneously the strong points of a subject, of fixing them immovably in a rigorous logical order, and of filling them up into a full rhetorical form, by such subordinate thoughts, and trains of reflection, as will carry the hearer along with the greatest possible rapidity, together with the greatest possible impression.1 This power of organizing united with the other principal power of the orator, that of amplifying to the due extent, is imperatively demanded of the preacher, by the active, clear, driving mind of the present age; and whoever shall acquire it will wield an influence over the public, either for good or for evil, greater probably than could be exerted by an individual in an age characterized by slower mental processes.

But is such an ability as this a thing of spontaneous origin? Will it be likely to be possessed by an indolent, or an uneducated mind? Any one, who will reflect a moment, will perceive that even a fine poetic or artistic talent would be far more likely "to come by nature," and without culture, than this fundamental ability of the orator. In these first instances, much depends upon the impulses and gifts of genius. There is much of spon taneity in the poetic and artistic processes. But a powerful methodizing ability implies severe tasking { of the intellect, a severe exercise of its faculties, whereby it acquires the power of seizing the mail points of a subject with the certainty of an instinct, and then of holding them with the strength of a vice,—and all this too, while the feelings and the imagination, the rhetorical powers of the soul, are filling out and clothing the structure with the vitality, and warmth, and beauty of a living thing. This power of quickly and densely methodizing can be attained only by diligent, and persevering discipline; and hence it should be kept constantly before the eye of the preacher as an aim, from the beginning to the end of his educational and professional career. He cannot meet the demands which the public will make upon him as its religious teacher, unless he acquires something of this talent; and he may be certain that in proportion as he doea acquire and employ it, he will be able to convey the greatest possible amount of instruction in the shortest possible space, and, what is of equal importance for the orator's purpose, he will be able to. produce the strongest possible impression in the shortest possible amount of time.

1 "Reason and argument must care that he aiways speak good

be made use of by the preacher, sense, and argue closely. Nothing

and the more of these the better, that comes from him is to be raw

But the closer this powder is and indigested, but all must be

rammed, the greater execution it well-ripened by judgment."—•

will do. The sum of this head is John Edwakub. The Preacher,

this: that a preacher is to take Pt. I., p. 127.