THE PLAN OF A SERMON.
In distinguishing the parts of a sermon, the same maxim applies, as in distinguishing the different species of sermons. The distinctions should be simple, generic, and as few as possible. We shall adopt the enumeration of Aristotle, in his Rhetoric,1 and regard the sacred oration as made up of the following parts, namely: the introduction, the proposition, the proof, and the conclusion.
1. The Introduction is that part of the sermon which precedes the proposition, and the proof. In common with the conclusion, it is a secondary part of an oration; the primary parts being the proposition and the proof. These latter, Aristotle denominates " necessary" parts, "for," he says, " it is absolutely necessary that a discourse should state something, andprove it." And it is plain, that if a sermon could have but two parts, the proposition and the proof of it would possess some positive value, taken by themselves, while an introduction and a conclusion, taken by themselves, would be worthless Hence, the exceedingly logical and rigorous Aristotle seems to hesitate, at first, whether he shall not regard the oration as consisting of but two parts, although he finally admits four.1
1 Aristotkles: De Arte Rlietorioa, III. xiii.
The introduction, in its nature, is preparatory It does not lay down any truth; it does not establish any doctrine; it simply prepares the way for the fundamental parts, and necessary matter, of the discourse. In secular eloquence, one very important object of the exordium is, to conciliate the hearer towards the speaker; to remove prejudices, and to awaken sympathy with him. There is not, ordinarily, any need of an exordium for this purpose, in sacred eloquence. The preacher, unless he has been exceedingly unfaithful to himself and his calling, may presume upon the good-will and the respect of his auditory, and need not waste time or words, in endeavoring to secure a favorable attention to himself, as a man. It is, however, sometimes necessary that the preacher, in his introduction, should conciliate his audience in respect to his subject. If his theme is a very solemn and awful one, if the proof and discussion of it lead to those very close and pungent trains of tUought, which are apt to offend fallen human nature, it is well for the serrnonizer, to prepare the mind of his auditor for this
AvayKaia apa p6pia irp6Qsaif Kal Ahistoteles: De Arte Rhetorica, ittarif ISta fj£v ovv ravra, To <5£ Ttaekt- III. xiii. ro irpool^iov ^p
plain dealing with his heart and conscience. The introduction, in this case, affords an opportunity to remind the hearer, that preaching is for the soul's good and the soul's salvation ; that when the subject requires it, the plainest discourse is really the kindest and most affectionate; that the truth which is to be established and applied, is a part of God's revelation, and that, however severe it may seem, it is the severity of Divine wisdom and love.
The ordinary office of the introduction, however, is ta exhibit the text in its connections, and to explain its less obvious meaning. Some writers upon Homiletics assign this work to a particular part of the discourse, which they denominate^he explanation. It is better, to regard it as belonging to the introduc^ion. In Sacred Eloquence, as we have already observed, there is, generally, no need of that conciliatory matter, either in respect to the speaker or his subject, which, according to these writers, constitutes the introduction proper. Hence, most sermons can have no introduction, except this explanatory one. Or, again, the sermon might need to be introduced by some conciliatory matter, and require no explanation of the text. Hence, it is better to define the introduction as consisting of all the matter, be it conciliatory, or explanatory, or both, which prepares for the necessary and fundamental parts of the sermon,—the proposition and its proof.
The introduction should be short. Of course, it must be proportioned to the length, and general structure, of the discourse. Still, brevity should be a distinguishing characteristic of the exordium; and where one sermon is faulty from being too abruptly introduced, one hundred are faulty from a too long and tiresome preface. It is easier to expand the common thoughts of the introduction, than to fill out full, and thoroughly elaborate, the argumentative parts of the discourse; and hence we too often listen to sermons which remind us of that Galatian church which began in the spirit, but ended in the flesh. The sermon opens with a promising introduction, which attracts attention, conciliates the audience, and paves the Tvay to a noble and fertile theme. But, instead of^bringing the exordium to a close, and commencing with the development of a subject, or the proof of a proposition, the sermonizer repeats, or unduly expands, his introductory matter, as if he dreaded to take hold of his theme. Tlie consequence is, that the theme itself is not handled with any strength or firmness of grasp, and the long and labored introduction only serves as a foil, to set off the brevity and inferiority of the body of the discourse. Rather than take this course, it would be better for the sermonizer, to plunge into the middle and depths of his subject, at once. This latter method is allowable, occasionally. When the subject is a very fruitful and important one, and the preacher can have but a single opportunity of presenting it, it is perfectly proper to dispense with every thing like a regular and oratorical exordium, and begin with the treatment of tho theme itself.
2. The Proposition is the enunciation of the particular truth which is to be established, and applied, in the sermon. It is, therefore, of a posi-' tive and affirmative nature. If, consequently, the truth or doctrine to be taught, and applied, has at first taken on a negative form, it is best to convert it into an affirmation. The demonstration of a position is more favorable to eloquence, than of a negation. The proposition should, also, be stated in the most concise manner possible. It is, or should be, the condensation and epitome of the whole discourse, and should, therefore, be characterized by the utmost density of meaning. The proposition should, also, be stated in the boldest manner possible. By this, it is not meant that the announcement of the subject of a sermon should be dogmatic, in the bad sense
of this word. This should be guarded against. But, every teaching, or tenet, of revelation, ought to be laid down with a strong confidence of its absolute truthfulness. We are told that a certain auditory, upon a certain occasion, were surprised at the doctrine of our Saviour, because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Christ spake as never man spake, for he spake with the commanding dignity of a higher consciousness than belongs to a mere man. His doctrines carry a divine weight, decisiveness, and authoritativeness, with
them, which, when felt, admits no appeal and no
gainsaying, on the part of the human mind. Ana. this authoritativeness pertains to inspiration as a whole. "When, therefore., the proposition of a smnon is a legitimate derivative from a passage of Scripture, it ought to he expressed in such a manner as to preclude all hesitation, doubt, or timorousness, in the phraseology. A weighty conciseness, and a righteous boldness, ought to characterize the terms, and form of the proposition. But, in order that this may be the case, the utmost care must be expended upon its phraseology. A prepositional sentence is very different from an ordinary sentence. It should be constructed much more elaborately. Its phraseology ought to be as near perfection as possible. The members, and clauses, of the sentence which is to enunciate the whole doctrine of the discourse, should be most exactly worded, and most cunningly jointed. The proposition of a sermon ought to be eminent for the nice exactness of its expression, and the hard finish of its diction. As a constituent part of the skeleton, it should be purest bone.
We have thus far spoken ot the proposition of a sermon, as a definite and distinct statement which follows the introduction, and precedes the proof. It is not necessary, however, that a discourse should contain a formal and verbal proposition, in order to its being a true topical sermon, a proper oration. The doctrine may be so inwoven into the proof, and discussion, as to render a formal statement uunecea sary. The proposition, in this instance, is implied in the body of the discourse. This is generally the case, with that large class of sermons which have been denominated subject-sermons. These contain no proposition that is formally announced, although they contain one that is really, and organically inlaid. If a discourse does not embody a proposition, either expressly or by implication, it is not topical, in its nature. Subject-sermons, as the name denotes, take for their title, not a proposition established and applied in them, but the general theme with which they are occupied. From them, however, a proposition can be drawn, to the support and enforcement of which, the entire body of the discourse is subservient; and this proves the identity with the topical sermon.
We will illustrate this, by reference to a sermon of Saurin, one of the very first of sermonizers, whether we consider the soundness of his thought, the vigor and clearness of his method, or the plain elegance of his rhetoric. The discourse is founded upon 1 Cor. i. 21: "After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." The title of the sermon is: "The advantages of revelation." The translator was, probably, led to give it this loose running title, because the author does not formally announce a proposition in the discourse. It contains one, however; and, put into a distinct verbal statement, would be this: "Revealed religion is infinitely superior to natural religion." This proposition really pervades the whole sermon, and is established, by showing that revelation imparts a knowledge infinitely superior to that given by natural religion, in respect, 1. to the nature and attributes of (rod; 2. to the nature and obligations of man; 3. to the means of appeasing the remorse of conscience; and, 4. to a future state.
It is better to vary the structure of sermons, by adopting both modes, so far as the proposition is concerned. Invariably to state the proposition, though not so objectionable as invariably to leave it unannounced, imparts an air of stiffness, and formality, to sermonizing from Sabbath to Sabbath. Whenever, however, the proposition is not verbally stated, the treatment of the subject ought to be of such a character, as to leave no doubt in the mind of the hearer, respecting the real and positive doctrine of the sermon. The body of the discourse should be made up of such clear and evident matter, that when the hearer asks himself the question: "What is the proposition of this sermon?" the answer is suggested by its trains of thought,. and the general bearing of it as a whole. If, therefore, a sermon contains no outward and formally announced proposition, it should contain an inward and organic one, all the more; and the whole mass of its argumentative, and illustrative, matter, should have even a plainer reference, and a stronger drift
in one general direction, than when the proposition has been verbally enunciated in the beginning.
3. The Proof is the substance of the sermon. It is the most important part of the discourse, because it is that part, for the sake of which the discourse itself is composed. The introduction, the statement of the proposition, and the conclusion, exist only in order to the demonstration. Separated from that argumentative part of the sermon, which establishes some truth, and produces conviction, these other parts are worthless. A logical development of an idea, or a convincing demonstration of a doctrine, always possesses an intrinsic worth. When we can read or hear but one part of a sermon, we always select the body of it, as it is termed.
The proof divides into parts, which are sometimes denominated "heads," and sometimes "divisions." These divisions should exhibit the following qualities. First, they must possess a true logical force. By this is meant, that they must one and all go to establish the proposition. It is not enough, that they bear some affinity to the theme of the discourse; that they are not heterogeneous. They must be of the nature of demonstration, and carry conviction, as far as they extend, to the hearer's mind. At the conclusion of each head or division of proof, the auditor should feel that the proposition has received an additional, and real support. Secondly, each head of the proof ought to exhibit a distinctive character by itself. By this is meant, that it should not contain elements of proof that are found in other divisions. It must not be a mere modification of some other head, but a distinct, and additional, item in the mass of argument. Hence, none but the leading arguments should
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appear in the sermon, for the support of a proposition. There is no time in the oration for the numerous exhaustive demonstrations of philosophy, and in reality no need of them. The preacher should seize upon the few prime arguments, and exhibit to the popular audience only the capital proofs.
A close attention to these two fundamental properties, in the heads of proof, is indispensable to good sermonizing. If a particular argument, in support of a proposition, is not genuinely demonstrative, and distinctively demonstrative, it should not constitute a part of the proof. All arguments that do not, so far as they reach and relate, really evince, and afford new elements of conviction, ought to be energetically rejected.
The observance of these maxims will secure a i proper number of heads. If every thing of the nature of proof is employed, without regard to the intrinsic worth and strength of it, the divisions will be too numerous for the nature of oratory. •' Some ministers," says an old homiletist, "do with their texts, as the Levite with his concubine,—cut, and carve it into so many several pieces." Some sermons exhibit a body of proof which, owing to the multitude of the divisions and sub-divisions, is •wholly unstated to the purposes of persuasive discourse. They are good illustrations of the infinite divisibility of matter, but produce no conviction in the popular mind, because they employ the philosophical, instead of the rhetorical mode of demonstration. This fault will be avoided, if the sermonizer asks, in respect to each and every head or division: "Does this proposed head really tend to prove the proposition, and does it afford a positively new item of proof, that is not contained in any other head?" These two questions, rigorously applied, will exclude from the sermon all second-rate arguments, and the pulpit will bring to bear upon the popular audience, only the strongest, plainest, and most cogent proofs. By this, it is not meant, that a division of the proof may*not exhibit another phase of one and the same general argument. There may be but one general argument, in support of a proposition, and then the new element of proof, in the new division, must be simply a new aspect of this. But in this case, also, the spirit of the above-given maxim must be obeyed. The new head, or division, should exhibit a new aspect, so distinct and diverse from that of all preceding or following heads, as to impart a marked, • and distinguishing logical character to it.
In respect to the number of heads, or divisions, in the proof, no stiff rule can be laid down. Some rhetoricians say that they should never exceed five. Probably, the majority of modern sermons contain less than this number, and the majority of ancient sermons contain more. It is better to amplify one first-rate argument, than to present two mediocre ones, in the same space. It is more difficult to do this, because it requires closer and more continuous reflection; but the sermon is the more excellent for it. When a rich and fertile argument has been discovered, the preacher should not leave it, until he has made the common mind feel the whole sum of its force. The instant he has done this, he should drop it. It is not enough to barely state a proof. 'It should be fully unfolded. It should be revolved in the preacher's mind, and before the hearer's mind, until all that is latent in it has been elicited. The maxim, then, in respect to the number of heads or divisions is, "Amplify, rather than multiply." The effect of this maxim will coincide with what has been said, respecting the choice of arguments. The preacher, we have seen, is to choose genuinely demonstrative, and distinctively demonstrative proofs; and these are the only ones that can be amplified, and cannot be multiplied. Fertile arguments are few in number, but may be made to cover a wide extent of surface, and furnish. a great amount of matter, for the body of the sermon.
These same maxims will apply to the sub-divisions .of proof. These, also, must possess a real, and distinct demonstrative power. They should not repeat each other, in any degree. The choice and number of the sub-divisions, must, therefore, be determined by the same rules that apply to the principal divisions. As a general thing, sub-divisions need not be formally announced. They should be so forcible, and marked, in their character,*as to announce themselves. Generally speaking, a subdivision thatwould not attract the attention of a hearer, by its own weight and worth, should be omitted.
In announcing the divisions and subdivisions of the proof, the greatest pains should be taken with the phraseology. Each one ought to be expressed in the most exact, and concise language. The same care which we recommended in wording the proposition, should be expended upon the wording of its proofs. These are themselves a species of proposition, and by the old sermonizers are so denominated. The elder Edwards frequently announces a general proposition, under the name of "doctrine," and follows with "proposition first," "proposition second," &c., as the arguments that support it.1
It sometimes happens, that the matter in the proof is excellent, being both truly and distinctively demonstrative, but the style of expression is exceedingly defective. As an example of a loose and slovenly manner of wording the divisions, and subdivisions, of the proof, take the following from John Howe, a preacher, who, in respect to thought and matter, has no superior in the Aucient or the Modern Church, but is excelled in respect to form and style, by many of inferior discipline, learning, and spirituality.
1 Compare Sermon upon 1 Thess. ii. 16. Works, IV. 281 sq.
In the forty-second of his Sermons, he describes the nature of the new birth.1 The divisions of the discussion are worded thus: "1. As it is a birth, it signifies a real new product in the soul; that there is somewhat really produced anew in it. 2. As this is a real production to be thus born, new born, so it is a spii'itual production, in contradistinction to such productions as lie within the sphere of nature. 3. As this is a birth, so we must consider it to be a total production,.such an one as carries an entireness with it; for so it is with all such productions that are properly called births. 4. This birth, as it is a birth, signifies a permanent production; an effect that is permanent, lasting, and continued."
Instead of this loose, incompact phraseology, these divisions would be more forcibly stated, and easily remembered, in the following form: To be born of God, (The text is, " Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God) denotes: 1. A real true birth. 2. A supernatural, or spiritual birth. 3. A permanent birth.2 The awkwardness of the statement, in this instance, arises from not cleanly separating the head, or division, from the matter under it, and from attempting some explanation or development of the head in the head itself This should never be done. The preacher must reserve the unfolding for its proper place. He should do one thins; at a time. When he announces either a
1 John Howe: Works, II. 894 tually included in the first, and
sq. New York Ed. therefore should be omitted in a
"The third head, in Howe's truly rhetorical plan distribution of the matter, ia vir
proposition or a division, let it be a pure and simple annunciation, in the concisest, clearest, and briefest phraseology. And when he unfolds, or developes, let him do this fully and exhaustively. Milton speaks of the close palm of logic, and the open palm of rhetoric. Now, the statement'of a proposition, or of a head, is logical in its nature; it should be the hard, knotty fist. The explanation, or development of a proposition, or of a head, is rhetorical irr its nature; it should be the open, ample hand. To attempt to unite the two in one sentence, is like attempting to open and shut the hand by a single volition, and by one set of muscles. The hand cannot be shut by the muscles that were made to open it. The statement of a proposition, or of a division of proof, cannot be the development and amplification of it.
Thus far, we have spoken of the body of the sermon, under the denomination of the proof. When discussing the nature of the proposition, we alluded to a class of sermons, called by some homiletists subject-sermons, which contain no formally announced proposition, although they contain an internal and implied one, and are, therefore, truly topical in their nature. It is obvious, that when the proposition is thus inlaid, and implied, through the discourse as a whole, the proof takes on a different appearance, fr/>m that which it wears in a more formally constructed sermon. Sometimes, there are no distinctly announced heads. The preacher, from the rapidity of his movement, cannot stop to enumerate, but supplies the lack of formality of statement by emphasizing leading words or clauses. In this case, there are subdivisions really, though not formally. Every sermon must contain subordinate thoughts, which flow out of each other, and yet are distinct from each other. Otherwise there is no development, no constant progress, and none of the elements of oratory.
When the body of the sermon is of this informal character, it is termed by some writers the treatment, by others the discussion. These terms are employed, not to denote that there is nothino. of the nature of
logic, or proof, in the body of the discourse, but that the logic, or proof, is less formal, and less formally announced, than in the other instance. The qyalities which should characterize the discussion, or treatment, of a theme, are substantially like those of the proof proper. There must be the same accumulation of genuinely demonstrative material. As this less formal development of the theme goes on, it should acquire additional logical force, and produce a growing conviction in the understanding of the hearer.
In concluding this account of the proof, the question arises, whether all the heads or divisions should be pre-announced, by the preacher, at the opening of his discourse. The decision of this question does not affect the structure of the discourse itself, because this pre-announcement is not the addition of any new matter, but simply the repetition of the existing. Without laying down a stiff, undeviating rule, we are inclined to say, that recapitulation is better than pre-announcemeiit. And this, for the following reasons. First, the recapitulation of the proofs,, at the close of the argumentation, is more intelligible than the preannouncement of them at the beginning. After the rnind of the hearer has followed the preacher through his proofs, and has listened to their development, one by one, it sees their meaning, and interconnection, much more readily and easily. The full import, and connection, of an argument, cannot be perceived, until it has been unfolded in its relations, and dependencies. Secondly, the recapitulation of the proofs is more impressive than the pre-announcement of them. The accurate and rapid repetition of the arguments of a sermon, after they have been clearly and connectedly exhibited, makes a very strong impression upon the hearer. It is a summing up of the demonstration, a grouping and epitomizing of the entire logic of the discourse, which falls with massive, solid weight upon his understanding. This epitome of the proof, read off to the audience before they have become interested in its contents by a course of argumentation, leaves the mind indifferent. It is like perusing the table of contents of a book, before reading the book itself. Lastly, the recapitulation of the proof is more easily remembered than the preannoun cement of it, for the reason that it is more intelligible, and more impressive. That which is most clearly understood, and most forcible and striking, is most easily retained in the memory.1
4. The Conclusion is that part of the sermon which Vigorously applies the truth, which has been established in the proof, or developed in the treatment, or discussion. As the introduction is conciliatory and explanatory, the conclusion is applicatory and hortatory. It should, therefore, be characterized by the utmost intensity, and energy. The highest vitality of the oration shows itself in the peroration. The onset upon the hearer is at this point. If the man's will is ever carried, if this true effect of eloquence is ever produced, it is the work of this part of the sermon. By this, it is not meant that the other parts of the discourse may not be excellent, and produce some of their proper effects, even though the conclusion be imperfect. But the crown and completion of the whole oratorical process, the actual persuasion of the auditor, will not ensue, if the conclusion is lame, and not equal to the preceding parts. It must be a true conclusion; a vehement and powerful winding up, and finishing. Hence, among the Ancients, the peroration received the utmost attention. The conclusions of the orations of Demosthenes, and Cicero, are constructed in the most elaborate manner, in order that there may be no falling off from the impression made by the preceding portions. At this point in the process of the orator, they seem to have exerted their utmost possibility of effort, like a leaper, who throws his whole brute force into that one leap which is to save his life from destruction. Indeed, the peroration seems to put the power to spring and smite, the very tendon of Achilles, into oratory.
1 "Our main work is to be their duty, which are the sum
the people's remembrancers, to be and abstract of what we have
constant monitors to them of delivered. We should endeavor
their duty, to bring the contents to refresh their memories, con
of it close up to their minds, and sideringthat the preaching of the
to fasten them upon them. To word was not instituted, only to
which end, it may be sometimes inform men of what they were
requisite, in the close of our dis- ignorant of before, but to remind
courses, to recapitulate the most them of what they knew well
important heads and particulars enough, but had forgot." John
we have been treating of, that Edwards: The Preacher, Pt. I,
onr auditors may carry away with p. 281. them those brief memorials of
In sacred eloquence, there are two species of conclusions; while, in secular eloquence, there is, strictly speaking, but one. The sermon may conclude, either by inferences, or by direct address. The secular oration employs the latter only. This difference arises from the fact mentioned in the chapter upon the distinctive nature of Homiletics, namely, that sacred eloquence is more didactic than secular, and hence may vary more from the strict canons of oratory, if it can' thereby produce a greater practical impression.
The sermon should have an inferential conclu
sion, when the principal practical force of the proposition, or the subject, is in the inferences from it. The real strength of some conceptions lies in that which follows from them. They make no very great moral impression of themselves, but they involve, or they imply, or they point to, certain truths that are highly important, and serious. Death, for example, is a theme that is much more solemn, and effective, in its inferences, and its implications, than in itself. It is, indeed, fearful in itself, but it is the king of terrors, only through its concomitants, and consequents. The doctrine of the soul's immortality, again, is one that makes its strongest impression by virtue of its inferences, and deductions. The mere fact that the soul is to live forever, exerts but little influence upon a man, until he has been made to see, that he is utterly unfit and unprepared for such an endless existence; until the doctrines of sin and guilt, of justice and judgment, have sharpened and enforced the doctrine of immortality.
Secondly, the sermon should have an inferential conclusion, when the proposition and its proof, oj the subject and its discussion, are highly abstract in their nature. There are some doctrines presented in the Scriptures, so recondite and metaphysical that they can be made to bear upon the popular mind, only in their concrete and practical aspects. Inasmuch as they are revealed truth, they must not be passed over, by the preacher. All Scripture is profitable. Yet they are metaphysical in their nature, and in their ultimate reach transcend the powers of the finite intellect. The preacher, therefore, must detect a popular element in them, that will make them proper themes for eloquence. He must discover in them, a practical quality, which will bring them home to the business, and bosoms of Christians.
In order to this, the sacred orator must follow the method of Scripture itself. He is to content himself with a brief and succinct statement, which omits noth ing essential to the doctrine, but which does not pretend to fully develope and explain it, and, from this, draw inferences and conclusions respecting the duties of his hearers. In this way, the high funda.» mental dogma is brought down into the sphere of human conduct, and made a practical test of character. It is not fully explained, it is true, because it cannot be by a finite mind; but it is correctly, that is scripturally, stated. This accurate enunciation of the truth, or doctrine, prepares the way for the inferences,—for that handling of it, which brings it into living contact with the affections and will of the hearer. In this way, the most abstract, and intrinsically metaphysical doctrine of Scripture becomes eloquent, that is, persuasive, and influential upon the human mind and heart. The revealed dogma of the trinity is an example. This is, undoubtedly, the most profound truth that has been presented to the human intelligence. Neither in Ancient nor in Modern philosophy, is there any doctrine that carries the mind down to such central depths. A perfect comprehension of this single truth, such as is possessed by the Divine intelligence, would involve a comprehension of all truth, and would solve at once, and forever, those standing problems of the human mind which have both stimulated and baffled its inquiries, ever since the dawn of philosophic speculation. And yet, this transcendental truth is a Biblical truth, and must be preached to plain Christian men and women. A discourse upon the doctrine of the trinity, therefore, should be strong in its inferences, rather than in its explanations, or developments. The relation, for example, which the three distinct Persons in the Godhead sustain to the believer, should be insisted upon. The peculiar feelings which he ought to cherish toward the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, should be inferred from the distinctive character, and office, of each. The duty of an equal adoration and worship, in respect to each Person, the part which each performs in the work of human redemption,—such practical and edifying discussion as this must enter largely into a sermon upon the trinity, instead of a strictly metaphysical discussion of the doctrine. But such matter as this is tuferen
tial, and should constitute the foundation of an address to the affections and will of the hearer. And it falls most properly into the conclusion, because it presupposes the statement and proof of the doctrine itself.
In respect to the character of the inferences themselves, they should possess the following properties. First, they must be legitimate. They must originate from the very heart, and substance, of the proposition or doctrine. Inferences should not be drawn from the accidental, or incidental, parts of a subject, but from its essentials, alone. Then, they are lawful inferences, and have the support of the whole fundamental truth, from which they spring. There is nothing to be subtracted from them. No allowance is to be made. They are entitled to their full weight. The hearer feels their legitimacy, and he cannot escape their force except by denying the proposition, or doctrine, of which they are the inevitable consequences. Secondly, inferences must be homogeneous. They must all be of the same kind. A conflict in the inferences from a truth destroys their influence upon the mind of the hearer, and a direct contrariety absolutely annihilates them. Hence, the utmost agreement, and harmony, should appear in the practical inferential matter of a sermon And this will be the case, provided they each, and all, possess the property of legitimacy. For truth is always self-consistent. It always agrees with itself. Hence, all matter that is really derived
from the very substance, and pith, of a fundamental truth, ii homogeneous and harmonious. Nothing is then drawn out, that was not first inlaid. Thirdly, inferences must be intensely practical. The very purpose in employing them, as we have seen, is to popularize the abstract, to bring an intrinsically abstruse doctrine, or proposition, into warm and vital contact with the common mind and heart. Hence, inferences should be entirely free from a theoretic aspect, and from abstract elements. Neither is it enough, that they be practical in the moderate sense of the word. They should be intensely practical. By this is meant, that their address and appeal should be solely and entirely, to the most moral, earnest, and living part of man's nature,— that "is, to his affections and will. The intellectual nature, by the supposition, has been addressed by the proposition, and the proof; and now it only remains, to press the doctrine home upon the conscience and feelings, in the most vivid and vital manner possible. This is done by legitimate and homogeneous inferences, coming directly, and inevitably, from the core of the subject, and containing its concentrated practical substance. Lastly, inferences must be cumulative. They should heap upon each other. Each succeeding one should not only be an addition to the preceding, but an advance upon it. The strongest inference should be the last inference. Unless this rule is observed, it is impossible to construct an excellent inferential conelusion. As we have previously seen, the perora« tion ought to be the most vivid, and impressive part of the sermon. But it cannot be, if the matter of which it is composed is all of equal value, and there is no progress. The peroration should be distinguished by vehemence, by the utmost intensity, energy, vividness, and motion. "When, therefore, it consists of inferences, these should be of such a nature, and so arranged, as to press with more and more weight, to kindle with hotter and hotter heat, to enlighten with stronger and stronger light, to enliven with intenser and intenser life, and to move with a more and more irresistible force.
Constructed in this manner, the conclusion of a sermon may be in the highest degree eloquent, even although an inferential conclusion, as we have remarked, is not so strictly oratorical as the direct address. For this practical property in inferences, this intense vitality of the material, this constant progress in the arrangement, is the essential element in eloquence. Where these are, there is eloquence; and we see not why the preacher may not make an onset upon the heart and will, through inferences, that will be as vehement and successful, as that which is made by a more regularly constructed peroration. At any rate, in the instance of such subjects as those which we have specified, and having a proposition whose main practical force lies in its implications, or one which is highly abstract in its owr nature, he has no choice left him
He must either pass by such subjects altogether, oi else handle them in the manner we have described. But, he has no right to omit any truth of Scripture, in his sermonizing. He is obligated to employ even the most profound and metaphysical doctrines of Eevelation, for homiletic purposes, and must, therefore, treat them in the most concrete, popular, and eloquent manner possible, by dealing with their implications, and inferences.
The sermon may, also, conclude with what we have termed the direct address. This is more strictly oratorical in its nature, -than the inferential conclusion. It does not, like this latter, contribute to a further development of the subject of the discourse, while it is applying it to the hearer, but is simply and solely applicatory. The inference, as we have seen, is somewhat didactic. It imparts some further information, in respect to the theme of the discourse, while it addresses the affections and will. It is not so with the direct address, or the strictly oratorical peroration. This supposes that the proposition and its proof, or the theme and its treatment, have exhausted the subject, in both its theoretic and practical aspects; and in this case, nothing remains but to apply it. As a consequence, this species of conclusion is much briefer than that by inferences. It ought not to be at all didactic. It should be purely oratorical, and highly hortatory, But such a species of discourse cannot continue long, and perhaps the art of the orator is nowhere more visible, than in the skill with which, in the conchisjon, he presses his theme upon the affections and will of the hearer. If this vehemence is too prolonged, it defeats itself. If this exhortation goes beyond the proper limits, it not only'fatigues, but disgusts, the mind of the auditor. No preachers are more wearisome, than those who are styled hortatory preachers. Their direct address is unsupported by doctrine. Their whole oration is peroration. They omit the proposition and the proof, in their plan. It is safer to overdo the address to the understanding, than the address to the feelings. The understanding is a cool and sensible faculty, and good sense never tires or disgusts it. But the feelings are both shy, and excitable. Addressed too boisterously, they make their retreat. Addressed too continually, they lose their tone and sensibility, altogether.
The direct address to the hearer should be characterized by the following qualities. First, it must be appropriate. By this is meant, that the conclusion should enforce the one proposition, or the one lesson, of the sermon. Every part, and particle, of the peroration should be pertinent to the discourse as a whole. And this implies, secondly, that the conclusion by direct address be single. It cannot be appropriate, unless it is characterized by unity. Whatever the doctrine of the sermon may be, the conclusion must apply this, and this only. Says that eccentric preacher, Rowland Hill: "The gospel is an excellent milch cow, which always gives plenty of milk, and of the best quality. 1 first pull at sauctification, then give a plug at adoption, and afterwards a teat at sanctification; and so on, until I have filled my pail with gospel milk." Now, if the body of the sermon has been constructed upon this plan, then an appropriate conclusion would not be one and single, in its character. A peroration pertinent to such a discourse would be double and twisted. But we have seen, that every sermon ought to be characterized by the utmost unity; that it should approximate to the topical form, even when it does not employ it, and should always approach as nearly as possible to the oration, by containing but one proposition, or developing but one general truth. Hence, the conclusion of the sermon is appropriate, only as it is single and incomplex, in its structure and spirit. It matters not what the proposition or subject may have been, let the direct concluding address be in entire harmony with it. Some homiletists lay down the rule: "Always conclude with the gospel; always end with the hopes and promises." This, we think, is a false rule, both rhetorically and morally. If the law has been preached, then let the conclusion be legal,, damnatory, terrible. If the gospel has been preached, let the conclusion be winning, encouraging, and hopeful. Then the sermon is a homogeneous composition, developing one theme, and making a single impression. A preacher should know, beforehand, the Avants of his audience, and deliberately make up his mind, in respect to the species of impression which it is desirable to produce. When this point is settled, then let him not be diverted from his purpose, but do what he has undertaken. If he judges that mercy and love are the appropriate themes for the hour, let him present them to the hearer's mind, and apply them to the hearer's heart, without any let or hindrance. And if he judges that Divine justice needs to be exhibited, and set home to the conscience, let him not temper or soften it, by a mixed peroration, in Avhich, owing to the brevity of the treatment to which he is now shut up, the two opposite ideas of love and wrath will inevitably neutralize each other, in the mind of the auditor.
The rule above mentioned is also indefensible, on moral grounds. It is not upright in a preacher, either from fear of man, or from a false kindness, to shrink, in the peroration, from a plain and solemn application of the subject of his discourse. He is in duty bound, to make the truth which he has established bear with all its weight, and penetrate with all its sharpness. The spirit with which he should do this, should be Christian. Let him not dart the lightnings, or roll the thunders, except with the utmost solemnity, the utmost fear of God, the utmost love of the human soul, and the utmost solicitude lest he be actuated by human pride, 01 human impatience. "Were you able to preach the doctrine tenderly?" said McCheyne to a friend, who Lad spoken to him of a sermon which he had delivered upon endless punishment. Perhaps the imperfection of his own Christian character is never seen more clearly by the preapher, than in the manner in which he constructs, and delivers, the perorations of his solemn discourses. He finds himself running to extremes. Either he is afraid to be plain and pungent, in applying the truth, arid thereby puts a sheath upon the sword of the Spirit, and muffles those tones which ought to sound startling as a fire-bell at midnight, or else he is impatient with his drowsy auditors, or is puffed up with selfconceit, and thunders and lightens in his own strength, and, what is worse, for his own purposes. "Put the lust of self" says Coleridge, " in the forked lightning, and it becomes a spirit of Moloch." Self, in all its phases, must be banished from a solemn application of an awful doctrine. The feeling of the preacher should be that of the timid, shrinking, but obedient Jeremiah, when bend ing under the burden of the Lord. "Then said I, Ah! Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I send thee, and whatsoever 1 command thee, thou shalt speak."
Appropriateness and singleness, then, should characterize the concluding address of the sermon. Bringing all the teachings of the discourse into a single burning focus, it should converge all the raya of truth upon a single spot. • That spot is the point in the hearer's soul, where the feelings and the conscience, come together. Any auditor whose affections are roused, and whose conscience is stirred, may be left to himself, and the Spirit of God; and any peroration which accomplishes this work, is eloquent.
The question arises at this point, whether the conclusion by direct address should refer to both classes of hearers, the regenerate and unregenerate. The answer depends upon the contents and character of the sermon. It is possible, that a discourse may establish a proposition that admits of a legitimate application, to both the regenerate and the unregenerate; though in this case, it will generally be found that the application is more easy, natural, and forcible, to one class than to the other. The doctrine that man is an accountable being, for example, may be legitimately applied to the Christian, in order to stimulate him to greater fidelity; and yet its strongest and most impressive application is 'to the impenitent man, who has made no preparation to meet the coming doom. In such an instance as this, good judgment would decide, that the address to that party to whom the subject had a less direct application, should be very brief,—a hint, rather than an application,—the intensity and energy of the peroration being aimed at that party most im mediately, and evidently, concerned with the subject.
Hence, in laying down a general rule, we would «ay in answer to the question, that the conclusion should be directed to but one class in the audience. If the proposition or subject applies most plainly to the church, then address the church in the close If it applies most significantly to the congregation, thfiD address the congregation. Without, however, laying down this rule as a stiff one, to which there are.no exceptions, it is safest, in general practice, to allow that unity of aim and singleness of pursuit, which is unquestionably the constituent principle of eloquent discourse, a free operation. Let unity run clear through the sermon, and clear out. If there be other lessons to be taught from the text, teach them in other sermons. If there be other applications of truth, make them in other discourses. It is not, as if the preacher had no other opportunity; as if he must say every thing in one sermon, and apply every thing in a single discourse. He has the year, and the years before him, in which to make full proof of his ministry; in which to exhibit the truth upon all sides, and to apply it to all classes of men. Let him, therefore, make each sermon a round and simple unit, and trust to the whole series of his sermons, to impart a full and comprehensive knowledge of the Christian system, and to make a complete application of it to all grades and varieties of character.
Having thus considered the two species of conclusion, it may be asked, if it is proper to employ both in one and the same discourse. We answer that, although it may occasionally be allowable to draw inferences from a proposition, and afterwards end with a direct address to the hearer, yet this should be done very rarely. If the inferences do not possess sufficient self-applying power, and need the urgency of direct address to enforce them, this proves that they are defective. In this case, it is wiser to bestow more care upon the inferences, and to endeavor to construct a true and adequate inferential conclusion. If the inferences are intrinsically feeble, no amount of earnest peroration can remedy this defect. Generally speaking, therefore, it is an indication of inferiority in a sermon if it has a mixed conclusion, and yet there may be an exception to this general rule. If, owing to the abstruse nature of the proposition, or the subject, the inferential matter in the sermon, though more practical and plain than the argumentative matter, is yet considerably recondite and abstract, the preacher may do the most he can towards impressing his subject upon the audience, by a direct address to them. In some such case as this, which should be a rare one, and must be, from the fact that but few themes of this highly abstruse nature come within the province of sermonizing, the preacher may employ both species of conclusion, not because it contributes to the greater perfection of the plan of a sermon, but because it is a choice of evils, and the best that can b,e done under the difficulties of the particular and rare case.
In closing this discussion of the plan and its several parts, the question naturally arises, whether a plan should invariably be formed before the process of composition begins. It is plain, from what has been said, that there will be a variety in the sermons of the same preacher, in respect to the distinctness with which the plan, and its parts, show themselves in the discourse. Sometimes the skeleton will appear through the flesh, so as to exhibit some angularity; and sometimes it will be so clothed upon, as to render its presence more difficult of detection. Sometimes the plan will be prominent, and sometimes it will be known to exist, only by the general unity and compactness of the sermon. But although there will be this variety in the sermon itself, there should be no variation in the method of constructing it. The sermonizer should uniformly form a plan, before beginning to compose. The plan may sometimes be fuller, and more perfect, than at others; but a plan of some sort, of more or less perfection, should invariably be formed in the outset.
By this, it is not meant, that in every particular the sermonizer must severely confine himself to his < skeleton; never modifying the plan, after he has begun to compose. It will sometimes occur, and this perhaps quite often, that the endeavor to fil] out the plan will reveal faults, that were not seen while constructing it. These faults must be removed, and this leads to a modification of the plan itself, in and during the process of composition. Indeed, in some instances, the first attempt at composition serves merely to introduce the mind into the heart of the subject, and to originate a truly organic method of developing it,—a second process of composition, a re-writing, being necessary to the completion and perfection of the discourse. Probably, the master-pieces of eloquence were .composed in this manner. The first, second, or even third draught served, principally, to elaborate a thorough and perfect plan,—to set the mind upon the true trail, and enable it, in the phrase of Bacon, to "hound" the nature of the subject, and reach the inmost lurking-place of the truth. When this work was accomplished, the mind of the orator was then ready for that last draught, and elaboration, which resulted in the master-piece and model for all time.
But, although the sermouizer may modify his plan after he has begun to compose, he may not begin to compose without any plan. He is to construct the best scheme possible, beforehand, and to work under it, as the miner works under his movable hurdle; never disturbing the outside, or the main props, but frequently altering the interior and secondary frame-work, as the progress of his labor may require.1
1 Skeletonizing is to sermon- sketching the human figure, and
izing, what drawing is to painting, a knowledge of its anatomy. In
The foundation of superior ex- this consisted, principally, the pre
eellence in this art, is talent in eminence of Da Vinci and Michael
The evils of sermonizing, without skeletonizing, are many and great. In the first place, the preacher's mind loses its logical and constructive ability. In a previous chapter, attention was directed to the excellent influence exerted by the analysis of sermons, and the effort to detect the plan contained in them. All that was there said in this reference, applies, with even greater force, to the actual construction of plans, for the preacher's own purposes. No mind can be methodical, that does not actually methodize. No mind can be constructive, that does not actually construct. If, therefore, the sermonizer neglects this practice of skeletonizing, and begins to compose without a settled scheme, writing down such thoughts and observations as spontaneously present themselves, his intellect will surely, and at no slow rate, lose all its logical ability and all its methodizing talent. The fundamental power of the rhetorician and orator, the organizing power, will disappear. And
Angelo, both of whom possessed a of his art. An outline sketch wonderful anatomical knowledge, of Angelo is more full of meaning, and exhibited it in their figures, than a hundred paintings in The lack of this knowledge, and which there is no anatomy, skill, cannot be compensated for, Retzsch's "Outlines" are wonderby other excellencies. Sir Joshua fully full of life, and meaning, Reynolds, owing to the defect of without any filling up from painthis early artistic education in this ing, because of the knowledge of reference, confined himself to the human frame, and the conseportrait painting; knowing, that quent significance of attitudes, he could do nothing in historical which they display, painting, and the higher ranges
if, as is apt to be the case, parallel with this disuse of the understanding and the reason, there is an exorbitant development of the fancy and imagination, the very worst consequences ensue. The preacher becomes a florid and false rhetorician, composing and reciting mere extravaganzas. He degenerates into a rhapsodist, making a sensation, for the moment, in the sensibilities of a staring audience, but producing no eloquent impression, upon their higher faculties. There is no calculating beforehand, in respect to the issues of such a mind. Reversing the lines which the poet applied to his own composition, we may say of the discourse of a preacher of this character,
"Perhaps Jt will be a sermon,
Perhaps 't will be a song."
Secondly, even supposing that, owing to the fact that the preacher's mind is not imaginative, his preaching does not become rhapsodical, and feeble, yet, if he neglects the practice of skeletonizing, he becomes rambling and diffuse. Having no leading idea, branching off into natural ramifications, by which to guide his mental processes, they run and ramble in every direction. The law of association is the sole law of his intellect. He follows wherever this leads him; and the law of association, in an illogical, unreflecting mind, is the most whimsical and capricious of laws. It associates the oddest and most heterogeneous things, and suggests the strangest and most disconnected ideas. The course which trains of thought take in such a mind, resembles the trails, and tracks, of the myriads of worms that are brought up out of ground, by a warm June rain. Sometimes, such a mind really attempts to be methodical, and then the discourse reminds one of Burke's description of Lord Chatham's cabinet: "He made an administration so checkered and speckled; he put together a piece of joinery so crossly indented, and whimsically dove-tailed; a cabinet so variously inlaid; such a piece of diversified mosaic; such a tesselated pavement without cement; here a bit of black stone, and there a bit of white, that it was indeed a very curious show; but utterly unsafe to touch, and unsure to stand on."1
Lastly, the neglect to form a plan, previous to composing, results in a declamatory and hortatory style of sermonizing. If an immethodical preacher does not fall into one or both of the faults last mentioned, he falls into this one. If he has no imagination, and no ideas, not even rambling and disconnected ones, then there is nothing left for him but to declaim, and exhort; and this manner of preaching is, perhaps, the most ineffectual and worst of all.
Certainly, such evils as the three we have mentioned, constitute the strongest of reasons for not neglecting the plan of an oration; for devoting the
1 Buekb: Speech on American Taxation.
utmost attention, and uniform attention, to the
logical organization of the sermon. It is a sin, for
the preacher to be a mere rhapsodist. It is a sin,
if he is a mere rambling babbler. It is a sin, if he
is a mere declamatory exhorter. He is solemnly
bound to be an orator,—a man who speaks on a
method, and by a plan.