Chapter IV



Maxims for the composition of sermons are of two classes, general and special,—those, namely, which relate to the fundamental discipline that prepares for the construction of a sermon, and those which are to be followed in the act of composition itself.

Before particular precepts can be given with profit, it is necessary to call attention to some general rules, thy observance of which greatly facilitates the process of writing a discourse. The sermonizer often loses much time and labor, in the season of immediate preparation for the pulpit, because he has made little general preparation for the work. As, in mechanics, the workman always seeks to increase the efficiency of a force, by applying it 7inder all the advantages possible, so the intellectual workman should avail himself of all that can render his direct, and immediate, efforts more effective and successful. A dead lift should be avoided by the mind, as well as by the body. Power, in both tlie material and mental worlds, should "be aided by what the mechanic terms a purchase. If the sermonizer goes to the construction of a sermon, after lie lias made preparation of a more general nature, he will be far more successful than if lie begins abruptly, and by a violent or perhaps spasmodic application of his powers.

1. The first of these general maxims is this: Cultivate a homiletic mental habii. By this is meant, such an habitual training of the mind as will impart a sermonizing tendency to it. The human understanding, by discipline and practice, may be made to work in any given direction, provided it is a legitimate one, with something of the uniform

O / O

ity and precision and rapidity of a machine. It can be so habituated to certain processes, that it stall go through them with very little effort, and yet with very great force. We shall, of course, not be understood as advocating a material philosophy, or as affirming that the operations of the mind are really mechanical. We are only directing attention to the fact acknowledged by all philosophers, that certain mental operations,—such as the logical, the imaginative, for example,—may be so fixedby exercise and habit, that the mind may perform them with an ease, and a readiness, that resembles the operations of an instinct, or a machine. Compare the activity of an intellect that has been habituated to the processes of logic, with one that has had little or no exercise in this direction. With what rapidity, and precision, does the former speed through the process; and how slowly and uncertainly does the latter drag along. The former has acquired a logical tendency, and needs only to fasten its grasp upon a subject that possesses a logical structure, that has logic in it, to untie it immediately, and untwist it entirely.

Now, in relation to the purposes of his profession and calling, the preacher ought to acquire and cultivate a horailetical habitude. Preaching is his business. For this he has educated himself, and tc this he has consecrated his whole life. It should, therefore, obtain undisputed possession of his mind and his culture.1 He ought not to pursue any other intellectual calling than that of sermonizing, He may, therefore, properly allow this species of authorship to monopolize all his discipline and acquisitions. It is as fitting that ,the preacher should be characterized by a homiletical tendency, as that the poet should be characterized by a poetical tendency. If it is proper that the poet should transmute every thing that he touches, into poetry, it is proper that the preacher should transmute every thing that he touches, into sermon.

1"We are told of a Grecian how advance with greater secugeneral who, when he travelled rity; how retreat with least danand viewed the country around ger. Something similar to this, him, revolved in his mind how an should be the practice and study army might be there drawn up of a public speaker."—Leland: to the greatest advantage; how Preface to the Orations of Demoshe could best defend himself, if thenes. attacked from such a quarter;

This homiletic habit will appear in a disposition to skeletonize, to construct plans, to examine and criticise discourses with respect to their logical structure. The preacher's mind becomes habitually organific. It is inclined to build. Whenever leading thoughts are brought into the mind, they are straightway disposed and arranged into the unity of a plan, instead of being allowed to lie here and there, like scattered bowlders on a field of drift. This homiletic habit will appear, again, in a disposition to render all the argumentative, and illustrative, materials which pour in upon the educated man, from the various fields of science, literature, and art, subservient to the purposes of preaching. The sermonizer is, or should be, a student, and an industrious one, a reader, and a thoughtful one. He will, consequently, in the course of his studies, meet with a great variety of information that may be advantageously employed in sermonizing, either as proof or illustration, provided he possesses the proper power to elaborate it, and work it up. Now, if he has acquired this homiletic mental habit, this tendency to sermonize, all this material, which would pass through another mind without assimilation will be instantaneously and constantly taken up_ and wrought into the substance and form of ser

1 These materials will readily into the preacher's Commor overflow, in the form of skele- Place Book, tons, metaphors, illustrations, etc.

The possession of such an intellectual habitude as this, greatly facilitates immediate preparation for the pulpit. It is, virtually, a primary preparation, from which the secondary and more direct preparation derives its precision, thoroughness, rapidity, and effectiveness. Without it, the preacher must be continually forced up to an unwelcome and ungenial task, in the preparation of discourses, instead of finding in this process of composition, a grateful vent for the outflow and overflow of his resources.

2. The second general maxim for the sermonizer is this: Form a high ideal of a sermon, and. constantly aim at its realization. There is little danger of setting a standard too high, provided the preacher is kept earnestly at work in attempts to reach it. The influence of a very perfect conception of a thing is sometimes injurious, upon one whose mental processes are somewhat morbid, and unhealthy. An artist whose beau ideal is high, but who has little productive energy and vigor, will dream away his life over his ideal, and accomplish nothing; or else fill up his career, as an artist, with a series of disappointed, baffled efforts. Such an one should content himself, in the outset at least, with a somewhat lower idea of perfection, and rouse himself up to more vigor and energy of execution. In this way, he would take courage, and would gradually elevate his standard, and carry his power of performance up along with his ideal. But if there be a vigorous willingness to work, and a sincerely good motive at the bottom of mental efforts, there is no danger of aiming too high. Though the peri'ect idea in the mind will never be realized,—for a man's ideal, like his horizon, is constantly receding from him as he advances towards it,—yet the grade' of excellence actually attained will be far higher, than if but an inferior, or even a moderate standard is assumed in the outset.

The preacher's idea of a sermon must, therefore, be as full and perfect as possible. He must not be content with an inferior grade of sermonizing, but must aim to make his discourses as excellent in matter, and in manner, as his powers^ natural and acquired, will possibly allow. And especially must he subject his efforts at sermonizing to the criticism and the discipline of a high ideal, while he is in the preparatory course of professional education. It is probably safe to say, that in all theological seminaries too many sermons are written, because the conception of a sermon is too inadequate. A higher standard would diminish the quantity, and improve the quality, in this department of authorship. We are well aware of the frequent demands made by the churches upon the theological student, before he has entered the pastoral office. These' demands ought to be met, so far as is possible, in view of the lack of preachers in this great and Crowing country. And yet this very demand calls for great resolution, and great carefulness, on the part of the professional student. He should not

court, but discourage this premature draft upon his resources, so far as he can consistently with a wise regard to circumstances. He ought to insist upon the full time, in which to prepare for a life-long work,—a work that will task the best discipline, and the ripest culture to the utmost. He ought to keep his ideal of a sermon high and bright before his eye, and not allow his mind, by the frequency and insufficiency of its preparations, to become accustomed to inferior performances, because this is the next step to becoming satisfied with them.

It is possible, as we have already remarked, that a high mode,! may, in some instances, discourage efforts, and freeze the genial currents of the soul. But in this age of intense mental action, when all men are thinking, and speaking, and writing, there is little danger in recommending a high standard to the professional man. Where one mind will be injured by it, a thousand will be benefited. Moreover, if there only be a vigorous and healthy state of mind,—a disposition to act, to think, and to write,—on the part of the clergyman, there is little danger of his becoming unduly fastidious, or morbidly nice. Add to this the fact, that as soon as the clergyman has once entered upon the active duties of his profession, necessity is laid upon him, and he must compose, nolens volens, and we have still another reason why a high ideal is not liable, as it is sometimes in the case of the artist or poet, to impede and suppress his activity. All dispoeition to "brood morbidly over performances, because *hey are not close up to the perfect model in the mind, will be broken up and driven .to the four winds, by the consideration, that on next Lord's day two sermons must be preached, at the call of the bell, to that expecting and expectant congregation.

We are also aware, that it is possible to expend too much time and labor upon an individual sermon. Some preachers, and some very celebrated in their day, have had their " favorite sermons," as they are styled,—sermons upon which an undue amount of pains was expended, to the neglect and serious injury of the rest of their sermonizing. A certain American preacher is said to have rewritten one particular discourse, more than ninety times! But this is not the true use of a high ideal. A high conception ought to show its work, and its power, in every sermon. The discourses of a preacher ought uniformly to bear the marks of a lofty aim. Not that one sermon will be as excellent as another, any more than one subject will be as fertile as another. But the course of sermonizing, year aftei year, ought to show that the preacher is satisfied with no hasty, perfunctory performance of his duties,—that there is constantly floating before him, and beckoning him on, a noble and high idea of what a sermon always should be.

There is little danger, however, of excessive elaboration during the course of professional study. The theological student is more likely to underestimate the close study of his plans, and the elaborate cultivation of his style and diction, than to overestimate theni. He is apt to shrink from that pei'sistent self-denial of the intellect, which confines it to long and laborious efforts upon a single discourse, instead of allowing it to expatiate amid a greater variety of themes. The student, in his best estate, is too little inclined to that thorough elaboration, to which the Ancient orators accustomed, themselves, in the production of their master-pieces, and which exhibits itself equally in the compactness and completeness of the organization, and in the hard finish of the style. "The prose of Demosthenes," says an excellent critic, "is, in its kind, as perfect and finished as metrical composition. For example, the greatest attention is bestowed by Demosthenes, upon the sequence of long and short syllables, not in order to produce a regularly recurring metre but, in order to express the most diverse emotions of the mind, by a suitable and ever-varying rhythm, or movement. And as this prose rhythm never passes over into a poetical metre, so the language, as to its elements, never loses itself in the sphere of poetry, but remains, as the language of oratory ever should, that of ordinary life and cultivated society. And the uncommon charm of this rhetorical prose lies precisely in this,—that these simple elements of speech are treated with the same care which, usually only the poet is wont to devote to words. Demosthenes himself was well aware of this study which he bestowed upon his style: and he required it in the orator. It is not enough, said he, that the orator, in order to prepare for delivery in public, write down his thoughts,—he must, as it were, sculpture them in brass. He must not content himself with that loose use of language which characterizes a thoughtless fluency, but his words must have a precise and exact look, like newly-minted coin, with sharply-cut edges and devices. This comparison of prose composition with sculpture, appears to have been a favorite one with the Ancient rhetoricians; as Dionysius also remarks of Demosthenes, Plato, and Socrates, 'their productions were not so much works of writing, as of carving and embossing.'"1 This high ideal, both in matter and style, should, therefore, float constantly before the eye of the student, during his whole preparatory course. In this way, he will habituate himself to intense and careful efforts in composition, so that when he goes out into active professional life, he may, when compelled to do so by the stress of circumstances, even relax something of this strain and tension of intellect, and yet throw off with rapidity sermons that •will be highly methodical, and highly finished, because this style of sermonizing has become natural to him. By this severe discipline of himself in the beginning, he will have acquired the right to be daring, and careless, when compelled to be, by the stress of circumstances; and what is more, he will have acquired the ability to be so, without disgrace to his calling, and with success in it.

1 Theremin: Demosthenes und Massillon, p. 142.

3. A third general maxim for the sermonizer is this: In immediate preparation for the pulpit, make no use of the immediate preparation of other minds, out rely solely upon personal resources. This maxim forbids the use of the, skeletons and sermons of other sermonizers, in the process of composition. Such a general preparation as has been described, namely, a homiletic mental habit conjoined with a high ideal, renders this help unnecessary. Such a sermonizer is strong in himself, and needs no supports or crutches ; such a preacher is rich in himself, and does not need to borrow. He prefers to follow the leadings of his own well disciplined and well informed mind, rather than to adjust himself to the movements of another, however firm and consecutive they may be.

In this day, when so many aids to sermonizing are being furnished, it is well to form a correct estimate of their real value. These collections of skeletons and plans, more or less filled up, which seem to be multiplying along with the general multiplication of books, ought to be entirely neglected and rejected, by both the theological student and the preacher. As matter of fact, they are neglected by all vigorous and effective sermonizers. They are the resort of the indolent and unfaithful alone.

The only plausible reason that can be urged for using them is, that they furnish material for the study of plans,—that they are necessary to the acquisition of the art of skeletonizing. But a good collection of sermons is of far more worth for this purpose. There is very little discipline, in looking over a plan that has been eliminated from a sermon, by another mind. But there^is very great discipline, in taking the sermon itself, and eliminating the plan for ourselves. In the first instance, the mind is passive, in the second it is active. The .plan of a truly excellent discourse is so identified with the discourse, is so thoroughly organic and one with the filling up, that it requires great judgment and close examination to dissect it, and separate it from the mass of thought, in which it is lightly, yet strongly imbedded. "Why then lose all the benefits of this examination, and exertion of judgment, by employing the collector of skeletons to do this work for us? Why not take the living structure to pieces ourselves, and derive the same knowledge and skill thereby, which the anatomist acquires from a personal dissection of a subject? It is only by actual analysis, that actual synthesis becomes possible. It is only by an actual examination of the parts of an oration, and an actual disentanglement of them from the matter of the discourse, that we can acquire the ability of putting parts together, and building up a methodical structure ourselves. In stead, therefore, of buying a collection of skeletons, the student and preacher should buy a collection ol sermons, and obtain the discipline which he needs, from a close and careful study of their logical structure and rhetorical properties. For, in this way, he will acquire both a logical and a rhetorical discipline. If he studies a skeleton merely, logical discipline is the most he can obtain; and this too, as we have seen, in only an inferior degree. If, on the other hand, he studies a sermon, while the effort to detect and take out the plan that is in it will go to impart a fine logical talent, a fine constructive ability, the attention which will at the same time be given to the style, illustration, and diction of the discourse as a whole, will go to impart a fine rhetorical talent also. The method of criticism will correspond to the method of production. As the sermon came into existence in a growth-like way,—plan and filling up, skeleton and flesh, all together,—so it will be examined in the same natural method. The skeleton will not be contemplated alone, and isolated from the thoughts which it supports; neither will the thoughts be examined in a state of separation from the plan of the whole fabric. The method of criticism, like the method of authorship, will be the method of nature.1

But when these collections of plans are seriously offered to the preacher, as sources from which to derive the foundations of his sermons, nothing can be said in their recommendation, either on the score of literature or morality. An English treatise upon the art of sermonizing, which is filled up with very full plans of sermons by various distinguished preachers, contains such remarks as the following: "An immense number of examples, in which passages are laid out in logical order, are to be found in Burkitt on the N. T., and more especially in Henry, and these may be often turned to good account. Some ministers are very cautious of using any of these plans, because the volumes of Burkitt and Henry are possessed by many families; but surely some new casting might easily be devised that would give the air of novelty, and please the fastidious, if they be thought worth the pleasing." Again, he says: "I do not wish to draw you from your independent study, and the resources of your own minds; but if at any time you feel indisposed towards mental labor, or time will not allow you to enter upon it, regard it as perfectly lawful to avail yourselves of the materials furnished by such an author as Henry." Again, he observes: "As to Burkitt, he is full of both long and short skeletons, that is, skeletons upon long and short passages, which a little pains would so modernize, that when our knowing people saw their old friend with a new face, they certainly would not recognize him again. This is, I suppose, what we wish, when we find ourselves out of condition for close study, or have not time for it." The author then goes on to say, with an innocent simplicity that is quite charming, that "it is necessary to obtain a knowledge of Burkitt's key-words, his 'Observe,' his'Note,' his 'Learn.' When he says 'Observe,' he is about to give you a head or division of the passage, in an expository view," &c., &c.x Now, such recommendations as these, are both illiterate and immoral. No scholar, no preacher who has even a becoming regard for the literary character, to say nothing of the edifying character, of his sermonizing, could possibly subject his intellect to such copying. A proper estimate of the sermon as a piece of authorship, if nothing more, would lead the sacred orator to despise such servile artifices, from which nothing but an artificial product could result. Upon such a method as this, the whole department of Sacred Eloquence would lose all its freshness and originality, and would die out. "Dull as a sermon" would be a phrase more true, and more significant, than it is now.

1 The careful analysis of sncli more valuable, than to road a

sermons as those of South, Bar- hundred treatises upon rhetoric,

row, and Saurin, would be a dis- without it. cipline for the young preacher

1 Stttrtevant: Manual, pp. try to compose one every month." 57, 58, 59.—The views in the The English Churchman contains English Church are very indul- the following announcement: gent, in reference to preparations "A clergyman of experience and for the pulpit. Archdeacon Paley, moderate views, who distinguishin a sermon to the young clergy ed himself during his university of Carlisle, addresses them as fol- course, in Divinity and English lows: "There is another resource, Composition, will furnish original by which your time may be occu- sermons, in strict accordance with pied, which you have forgot, in the Church of England, in a leginrging that your time will hang ble hand, at 5s. Gd. each. Only heavy upon you. I mean the one copy will be given in any composition of sermons. I am diocese. A specimen will be far from refusing you the benefit sent, if wished for. Sermons of other men's labors; I only re- made to order, on any required qmre that they be called in, not subject, on reasonable terms, to flatter laziness, but to assist in- For further particulars apply," dustry. You find yourself unable &c. to furnish a sermon every week;

But upon the score of morality, this act of stealing sermons is utterly indefensible. A preacher ought to be an honest man throughout. Sincerity, godly sincerity, should characterize him intellectually, as well as morally. His plans ought to be the genuine work of his own brain. Not that he may not, at times, present a plan and train of thought similar to those of other minds; but he ought not to know of it at the time. Such coincidences ought to be undesigned; the result of two minds working upon a similar or the same subject, each in an independent way, and with no intercommunication. Then the product belongs to both alike, and the coincidence results from the common nature of truth, and the common structure of the human mind; and not from a servile copying of one mind by another.

Beside this critical study of the best sermon izers, in the several languages with which the preacher may be acquainted, he should be a diligent student of the standard theological treatises in them. There are, in each of the leading literatures of the modern world, and also in the patristic Greek and Latin, a few treatises Avhich are so thoroughly scriptural in their matter, and so systematic in their structure, that they cannot be outgrown by either the theologian or the sermonizer. Upon these, in connection with a faithful study of the Scriptures themselves, the preacher ought to bestow his time. This method of preparing for the process of composition, unlike that. indolent method of having recourse to the plans and sermons of others, strengthens and enriches the intellect. The preacher daily becomes a more discriminating exegete, a more profound theologian, a more natural rhetorician; and the end of his ministerial career finds him as thoughtful, and as fertile a sermonizer as ever.

The union of a close critical study of the Scriptures themselves, with a thorough and continuous study of those sterling theological treatises which, because they have grown up out of the Scriptures, partake most of their root and fatness, cannot be too earnestly recommended to the sermonizer, as the best general preparation for direct and particular preparation for the pulpit. The time and ability of the preacher, in this age of innumerable small books, upon innumerable small subjects, is too often expended upon inferior productions. Let him dare to be ignorant of this transitory literature, whether sacred or secular, that he may become acquainted with the Bible itself and those master-works of master.minds which con

tain tlie methodized substance of the Bible, and breathe its warmest, deepest inspiration.

Intimately connected with this study of the Bible, and of theological systems and treatises, is the study of philosophy. This point merits a fuller treatment than is possible within our limits. We would only briefly remark, that the study of philosophy, rightly pursued, is a great aid to the theologian and the preacher. If the department of philosophy be employed rather as a means of disciplining the mind, and of furnishing a good method of developing and presenting truth, than as a source whence the truth itself is to be taken, it becomes the handmaid of theology and religion. If, on the contrary, it is regarded as the source of truth, and the theologian and preacher seeks his subject-matter from the finite reason of man, instead of from the Supreme Reason as it has revealed itself in the Scriptures, then the influence of philosophical studies is most injurious. But this is not the true idea of philosophy. Bacon called his philosophical system the "novum organum," the new organ, or instrument, by means of which truth was to be developed, established, and applied. He did not style it a new revelation of truth, but a new medium of truth.

If, now, the theologian and preacher adopts this true and rational view of the nature of philosophy, if he regards it as a means whereby his mind obtains the best method of developing, and not of origina

ting truth, if he views it as a simple key to unlock the casket which contains the treasure, and not as the treasure itself, or even the casket,—if the theologian and preacher adopts this sober and rational view of the nature and uses of philosophy, he will find it of great assistance. All that part of rhetoric which treats of plan and invention, all the organizing part of rhetoric, is most intimately connected with philosophy. Moreover, a correct knowledge of the laws of the human mind, a correct idea of the relation of truth to the human mind, and a correct method of enucleating and establishing truth, cannot be acquired with out the discipline that results from philosophical studies; and without such 'knowledge, the preacher can neither think profoundly and consecutively, nor discourse clearly and forcibly.1

4. The fourth general direction for the sermonizer is this: Maintain a, spiritual mind, Thia direction is a practical one, and while it includes all that is implied in the common injunction for all Christians, to cultivate personal piety, it is more specific in reference to the necessities of the preacher. By a spiritual mind, in this connection, is meant that solemn and serious mental frame which is naturally, and constantly, occupied with eternal realities. Some Christians seem to be much more at home in the invisible realm of religion, than others. They ;ire characterized by a uniformly earnest and unearthly temper, as if their eye were fixed upon something beyond the horizon of this world; as if they saw more, and saw further, than thoughtless and unspiritual men about them. Their eye is fixed upon something beyond time and sense, and they do see more, far more, of "the things unseen and eternal," than the average of Christians.

1 Says John' Edwards, in his cultivating of our thoughts,

work on Preaching: "As for "Whence it is, that unthinking

metaphysics, it cannot be denied persons, and those that never

that they are useful to the help- study for accuracy of conceptions,

ipg us to a clear and distinct ap- hate this sort of learning, as much

prehension of things, and to the as a deist doth creeds and cate

enlarging of our minds, and the chisms."—Preface to Pt. I.

Now, this mental temper is of great worth to the preacher. Aside from the fact that one who possesses it, is always in the vein for writing or speaking upon religious themes, such a one discourses with an earnest sincerity that is always impressive and effective. He speaks seriously, because he understands the nature of his subject. He speaks clearly and distinctly, because this spiritual-miudedness makes him substantially an eye-witness of eternal realities. He speaks convincingly, because he knows what he says, and whereof he affirms.

Let the preacher, then, maintain a spiritual mind,—a mind that is not dazzled with the glare of earth, that is too solemn to be impressed by the vanities of time, and made habitually serious by seeing Him who is invisible. Dwelling among the things that are unseen and eternal, such an orator when he comes forth to address volatile and worldly men, will speak with a depth and seriousness of view, and an energy and pungency of statement, that will leave them thoughtful and anxious. Without this abiding sense of the reality and awfulness of eternal things, though the preacher may send . men away entertained and dazzled, he cannot send them away thinking upon themselves, and upon their prospects for eternity. And of what worth is a sermon that does not do this? The principal lack in the current preaching is not so much in the matter, as in the manner. There is truth sufficient to save the soul, in most of the sermons that are delivered; but it is riot so fused with the speaker's personal convictions, and presented in such living contact with the hearer's fears, hopes, and needs, as to make the impression of stern reality. The pulpit must become more intense in manner, or the "form of sound words " will lose its power.