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It seems now to be a point generally conceded, that every Clergyman ought to write his own sermons; unless, indeed, his pastoral labours be so multiplied that the thing is literally impossible. Formerly, a Clergyman was expected only by the vulgar always to write what he preached; the idea being with them that no man would possibly preach another's sermon who could compose his own; so that, to them, the detection of another hand in their pastor's sermon was the detection of his incompetency to teach. The absurdity of this conclusion was, of course, readily perceived by persons of better education; some of whom wandered to the opposite extreme, and were actually of opinion that it would be better for the Clergy generally to borrow. The opinion of Addison, and the practice he assigns to Sir Roger de Coverley's chaplain, are well known to our readers.* There can be no doubt that the dictum of an authority so dear to piety and to sound taste, had its weight with a proportion of our Clergy; that it reconciled the laity to borrowed sermons; and that it, in some instances, met with ready concurrence from natural indolence. It is now almost universally condemned ; and perhaps the reason is, that it has been weighed in the balance of experience, and found wanting. There was, from the first, a material objection to it. Sermons, being addresses to particular assemblies, could never be entirely borrowed ; and in proportion as they were borrowed, would lose their applicability. Accordingly, such of the Clergy as fashion, or indolence, or sober conscientious conviction, and modest self-distrust, led to adopt the worthy chaplain's plan, found it in strictness impracticable, and were therefore obliged to model and adapt their author; the result of which practice might be easily understood, had we not the evidence of a contemporary of Addison, for the effect of one of Tillotson's sermons thus disguised. The fault, probably, was not in the preacher, but in the system. It was putting new cloth on an old garment. It is, indeed, extraordinary how a mind like Addison's could not perceive the absurdity of the scheme; and much more, how he could mention it with approbation. With what consummate ridicule would he have overwhelmed the statesman who should have had his speeches all drawn up ready for use in the words of the ancient orators ! who should have denounced the French monarch with the Philippics of Demosthenes, or Wharton with those of Cicero! Yet the cases differ only in degree, and even there not materially. It is true the range of the pulpit is more limited than that of the senate, but it must be limited indeed before it could be brought to accord with this supposition. What sermon was ever written that could be made to suit every congregation ? And what sermon could be patched so skilfully as not to disclose the junction, unless indeed the whole were so neutral and vapid that nothing could spoil or degrade it?
• Spectator, No. 106.
+ Ibid, No. 539.
Authority, and nothing but authority, has invested the remark of Addison with the influence it has exercised.
• Το δ' αξίωμα, κάν κακώς λέγη
πείσει. Λόγος γαρ εκ τ' άδοξούντων των
και των δοκούντων αυτός, ου ταυτόν σθένει." Had a name less than that of Addison vouched for the dictum, it must have sunk immediately into contempt. Experience has shewn what some would have hesitated to admit on any lower evidence, that Sir Roger, however well he might cater for his own gratification or improvement, did not successfully study the interests of his fellowparishioners. The composition, therefore, of a sermon, independently altogether of the matter and substance of which it is to consist, is, of itself, an object well worthy the study of probationers for the ministry, and, indeed, of ministers themselves.
Mr. Gresley's book affords aid towards this object. Notwithstanding, however, the bulk of his volume (a stout octavo) it can only be said to take a kind of Camilla's flight over this ample field. It is in the highest degree entertaining and interesting; it is every where characterised by solidity and intelligence; it is a masterly sketch ; and we think the hand that drew it is fully equal to the production of a finished picture, which we yet trust to see. The work is written in letterseach letter treats a separate subject in regard to sermon writing; and when we state that there are thirty-five such letters, and that the volume contains only four hundred and seventy-two widely printed pages, our readers will easily perceive that a full and ample discussion of this important topic is yet among the "codices expectandi.” But Mr. Gresley's is an admirable draught of such a work ; better arrangement we would not desire; all that would be necessary is a more extended discussion of each head, with a fuller apparatus of examples. It is, however, from its condensation, more comprehensive than might be thought; and at all events, it is a decided acquirement to the Church, and ought to be in the hand and in the head of every Clergyman, and student for the ministry.
We shall proceed to make a few random extracts ; for the work is so generally equal, that selection would be difficult.
Mr. Gresley, on the whole, objects to extemporaneous preaching. Having mentioned the evils incident to this school, he proceeds
Now I believe that nine at least out of ten extemporaneous preachers fall into the errors and difficulties described ; and in all such cases the greater part of the congregation would prefer, and be more edified by, a good plaiu written sermon. When a sermon is well written, and delivered in an earnest and feeling manner, the attention of the hearers is fixed solely on the meaning; they are not distracted by anxiety lest the preacher should come to a stand; nor, on the other hand, are they in admiration of his fluency; both of which feelings interfere very much with the profitable reception of a discourse. They know also that what is spoken is the speaker's deliberate opinion, whereas a man who clothes his ideas in unpremeditated language will often blurt out a good deal of nonsense. “ Many foolish things," says an old writer, “ fall from wise men, if they speak in haste, and be extemporal." Experience proves the truth of this remark with regard to wise men who speak in other places, for they are frequently obliged to retract what they have said, on the plea of inadvertency; surely the same inadvertency may occur in the pulpit. “ Nothing great,” says South, " ought to be ventured upon without preparation; but above all how sottish it is to engage extempore, where the concern is eternity.”—Pp. 83, 84.
He afterwards makes the following sober and sensible remarks :
On the whole, then, you will perceive that I am in favour of written discourses in a parish pulpit. I would rather say, that I am well satisfied with the present state of public opinion on this subject. Extemporaneous preaching is not required of a Clergyman; but if he chooses to preach in that style, and does it well, few people will blame him. The choice is left to bis own discretion, and knowledge of his own powers. Some who are vaturally bold, confident, and ardent in disposition, and fluent and voluble in speech, will cultivate the extemporary style; others who have less power of speech, more diffidence, a nicer perception perhaps, and habits of closer investigation and reasoning, will prefer the written mode. In some the very sight of a congregation would be likely to excite a warmth of feeling, and corresponding warmth of expression, which would never have occurred to them in their study. In others the same spectacle would awe their senses, confuse their mind, and take away even the power of speech. I will not attempt to judge between these two classes of ministers, or pronounce which are most useful in their vocation. Doubtless God raises up proper instruments for the edification of his Church, and bestows on them their proper gifts, which they are bound to cultivate for the good of others. While, therefore, we earnestly desire the best gifts, let us chiefly " follow after charity."
But, though well satisfied wiib the discretion allowed to preachers in this matter, I cannot say that I admire the way in which that discretion is exercised. The pulpits generally selected for extemporaneous preaching are, unfortunately, just those which are least calculated for it. An extemporary preacher will generally establish himself in a populous town, with a view to preach before a large congregation: whereas the most suitable places for this style are remote villages, where two or three only are gathered together. Here the preacher feels hiniselt superior to his flock, and labours, consequently, under no embarrassment or want of confidence. Here a sensible and pious Clergyman, without high talent, may use the extemporaneous mode with great advantage, especially in lectures; for in them deep reasoning is not required, nor any thing but elementary teaching. Most Clergymen may acquire sufficient skill to lecture extemporaneously before an unlearned congregation, whereas few can do so unaffectedly and simply, or, indeed, comfortably, if they think themselves liable to criticism. I have beard an excellent Clergyman declare, that he had long been in the habit of speaking extempore to a village congregation with effect and satisfaction, but when he came to preach in a town, his power was gone, his nerve lost, bis tongue clave to the roof of his moutli, and he was fain to betake himself to written sermons.- Pp. 85–88.
The following, while important as regards the information it conveys, affords a favourable specimen of our author's style, who well excmplifies what he describes and recommends.
Plainness of speech is very different from familiarity or vulgarity, nor does it necessarily imply even honeliness. Such language as the following errs in the excess of homeliness. "If I wait upon the Lord in the exercise of faith, he will give me every thing that is good for me. Yes, he would give me the sun, and moon, and stars, to-morrow or even to-day, if they would do me any real good. God takes away things from his family, as a mother does with her child, who has found a knife and fork. They pass very near his eyes, bis mouth, his nose, and what does she do? She takes them away from his hands. Thus the Lord does with us." Just and true as the illustration is, yet, I fear, the language in which it is expressed would be more likely to promote mirth, than a feeling of holy reverence to our Heavenly Father.
Allied to this, and equally to be avoided, is a tone of affected condescension, and avowed adaptation of your style to the ignorance of your hearers. Deeply ignorant as too many of the lower classes still remain " in things belonging to their peace,” yet the partial education which they have received, has filled them with the pride of knowledge. Give them a tract addressed to persons of the meanest capacity, and they will throw it to their children, if not into the fire. You must adapt your language to their circumstances; and, while you are careful that your style is plain, do not let its plainness be too prominent.
When it is said that ihe language of a sermon must be perspicuous, it is not meant that it should be such only as may be understood if the congregation give their whole mind to it, but such as will be understood with ordinary attention ; in short, such as cannot be misunderstood. In order to effect this, it should be, not only clear and intelligible, but also forcible, under which term I mean to include energy, vivacity, keenness, vigour, and spirit. It should be full of vivid images, and nervous appeals; and, above all, it should have point. The sense should not be diffused over a large surface, but closely packed. It should have weight and momentum; and, at the same time, power to penetrate.-Pp. 107–109.
The following observations will be found useful : Some writers have much more facility of invention than others; and it is likely you will find your own power of invention, whatever it may be, vary very much at different times. Sometimes, ideas will pour upon you like a food, and the only difficulty will be, how to sift the gold dust from the sand; at other times you will scarcely be able to wring from your unwilling brain a single drop that is good. In order to assist you whenever you may find yourself in this latter predicament, and with a view, also, to aid you in your selection, when the stream of your fancy runs with unusual copiousness, I shall set down a few general questions, which will enable you to draw out your subject with the greater facility.
First: Is there any preliminary matter which it would be well to dispose of, before entering upon the main subject of the discourse? Is there any principle which should be laid down; any prejudice or false principle to be removed ? Is there any hypothesis, any thing implied and not expressed, any remark, in short, which will help to elucidate the matter in hand?
Secondly: Is there any thing remarkable in the circumstances relating to the text-in the character or situation of the speaker? as, for instance, if your text is from Eccles. i. 11–“ Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.” You may remark that the words were spoken by one who had experienced all varieties of earthly pomp and pleasure; not by an envious cynic, nor by one who had been cast down from his bigh estate, like Wolsey, who exclaimed, “ Vain pomp and glory of the world, I hate ye,” just when all his goods and chattels, lands and tenements, were forfeited. I do not mean that you are to quote this passage from Shakspeare, but I instance it merely to illustrate this topic. Again-is there any thing remarkable in the time or place, when and where the words were spoken ? as Eph. i. 3—— Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” These words of triumph and gratitude were written (could we have supposed it?) when St. Paul was a prisoner in chains at Rome. Dr. Chandler justly marks the Divine wisdom of the bouks of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, when he says—“Some centuries before certain philosophers of Greece, by a few moral aphorisms, acquired the title of wise men, these books existed; and by the sagacity of their observations on men and manvers, by their excellent precepts for the conduct of life, and, more than all, by their reference of all moral obligation to the supreme will of God, they breathe that wisdom and understanding which, it is expressly said, their author received from the Lord. The like observation might be applied to the sacred poetry of Israel,” &c. Or, is there any thing remarkable in the circumstance or the character of the persons to whom the text refers ? as, for instance, it will be important to mention that many of the parables of our Lord applied primarily to the Jews; and many parts of the Epistles would be imperfectly understood without reference to the state of parties and circumstances at the time. When I desire you to inquire whether there is any thing remarkable in the circumstances of those addressed, the time, and place, and character of the speaker, I should add, that I mean always with reference to the main scope and intention of your subject. Unless it bears upon this point, it is superfluous to allude to any circumstance, however in itself remarkable. It would be mere waste of time: but very often you will find this extensive topic extremely useful.
Thirdly: Is there any thing remarkable in the manner, either with regard to the terms in which the text is stated, or the sentiments conveyed? as when our Saviour begins by saying, “ Verily, verily," it would seem that what follows is of more than ordinary importance : so when St. Paul says, “ If it be possible as far as in you lieth live peaceably with all men," it may be well to note the peculiarity of prefixing the terms “if it be possible" to .a precept. Again, in the text, “ It is impossible but that offences will come; but woe unto him through whom they come. It were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.' Here there is a marked contrast between the tenderness of God for the least of bis creatures, and his stern severity against those who shall cause them to fall.
Any one of the foregoing topics will do for an exordium. Take care, however, not to have too much sameness in your exordium. But of this more hereafter. Let us proceed with the questions.
Fourthly: What are the principal branches of the subject in hand? Does it divide itself naturally? or does it require an artificial division? I have placed this question early, though, perhaps, you may not yet see sufficiently into the subject to answer it fully; ii is desirable, however, that it should be answered soon, and the main branches and divisions settled, as well as the order in which they should be treated.
Fifthly: There is another question which demands an early consideration, that is, Is there any thing which makrs against your argument
statement! Are there any objections ? If so, are they so obvious or important as to require a regular discussion, and when will be the fittest time to discuss them, and how will they best be answered ?
Sixthly: Are there any qualifications or limitations which should be made with reference to the words or subject of the text? as, “ Take no thought what you shall eat,” &c.; “Swear not at all,” these texts must be qualified by reference to other parts of Scripture. You will find this topic applicable in a great many cases, when the text apparently contradicts other texts, or when it seems to be in opposition to the analogy of faith, or to common sense; as in the apparent contradiction between St. Paul and St. James with regard to faith and works.
Seventhly : What are the causes or reasons of the text being delivered ? What is the primary cause or principle? Did it proceed from God's love, or from his wrath, bis mercy, or his justice? What is the final cause or o'ject ? Is it to warn us against sin? or to lead us to righteousness? to confirm and