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Then his actions will, of course, correspond to his words. If he undertakes to make gestures, his arms may go like a windmill, and yet make no impression." It is said to require the utmost stretch of art on the stage for the actors to make their hearers feel. The design of elocution is to teach this skill. But if a man feels his subject fully, he will naturally do it. He will naturally do the very thing that elocution laboriously teaches. See any common man in the streets who is earnest in talking; see with what force he gestures. 44 See a woman or a child in earnest - how natural! To gesture with their hands is as natural as it is to move their tongue and lips: it is the perfection of eloquence.
No wonder that a great deal of preaching produces so little effect. Gestures are of more importance than is generally supposed. Mere words will never express the full meaning of the Gospel. The manner of saying it is almost everything. I once heard a remark made, respecting a young minister's preaching, which was instructive. (He was uneducated, in the common sense of the term, but well educated to win souls.) It was said of him: "The manner in which he comes in, and sits in the pulpit, and rises to speak, is a sermon of itself. It shows that he has something to say that is important and solemn." That man's manner of saying some things I have known to move the feelings of a whole congregation, when the same things said in a prosy way would have produced no effect at all.
A fact which was stated upon this subject by one of the most distinguished professors of elocution in the United States, ought to impress ministers. (The man was an unbeliever.) He said: "I have been fourteen years employed in teaching elocution to ministers, and I know they do not believe the Christian religion. Whether the Bible is true or not, I know these ministers do not believe it. I can demonstrate that they do not. The perfection of my art is to teach them to speak naturally on this subject. I go to their studies, and converse with them, and they speak eloquently. I say to them: 'Gentlemen, if you will preach naturally, just as you speak on any other subject in which you are interested, you do not need to be taught. That is just what I am trying to teach you. I hear you talk on other subjects with admirable force and eloquence. Then I see you go into the pulpit, and you speak and act as if you do not believe what you are saying.' I have told them, again and again, to talk in the pulpit as they naturally talk to me. Yet I cannot make them do it; and so I know they do not believe the Christian religion."
I have mentioned this to show how universal it is, that men will gesture right, if they feel right. The only thing in the way of ministers being natural speakers is, that they do not DEEPLY FEEL. How can they be natural in elocution, when they do not feel?
(g) A minister should aim to convert his congregation. But, you will ask: Does not all preaching aim at this? No. A minister always has some aim in preaching, but most sermons were never aimed at converting sinners. And if sinners were converted under them, the preacher himself would be amazed. I once heard a story bearing on this point. There were two young ministers who had entered the ministry at the same time. One of them had great success in converting sinners; the other, none. The latter inquired of the other, one day, what was the reason of this difference. "Why," replied his friend, "the reason is, that I aim at a different end from you in preaching. My object is to convert sinners, but you aim at no such thing; and then you put it down to the Sovereignty of God that you do not produce the same effect, when you never aim at it. Take one of my sermons and preach it, and see what the effect will be." The man did so, and preached the sermon, and it did produce effect. He was frightened when sinners began to weep; and when one came to him after meeting to ask what he should do, the minister apologized to him, and said: "I did not aim to wound you, I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings!" Oh, horrible!
(h) A minister must anticipate the objections of sinners, and answer them.
What does the lawyer do, when pleading before a jury? (Oh, how differently from human causes is the cause of Jesus Christ pleaded!) It was remarked by a lawyer, that the cause of Jesus Christ had the fewest able advocates of any cause in the world. And I partly believe it. Does not a lawyer go along in his argument in a regular train, explaining anything that is obscure, and anticipating the arguments of his antagonist? If he did not, he would lose his case, to a certainty. But ministers often leave one difficulty and another untouched. Sinners who hear them feel a difficulty, and never know how to remove it, and perhaps the minister never takes the trouble to know that such a difficulty exists. Yet he wonders why his congregation is not converted, and why there is no revival. How can he wonder at it, when he has never hunted up the difficulties and objections that sinners feel, and removed them?
(I) If a minister means to preach the Gospel with effect, he must be sure not to be monotonous. If he preaches in a monotonous way, he will preach the people to sleep. Any monotonous sound, great or small, if continued, disposes people to sleep. The falls of Niagara, the roaring of the ocean, or any sound ever so great or small, has this effect naturally on the nervous system. And a minister cannot be monotonous in preaching, if he feels what he says.
(j) A minister should address the feelings enough to secure attention, and then deal with the conscience, and probe to the quick. Appeals to the feelings alone will never convert sinners. If the preacher deals too much in these, he may get up an excitement, and have wave after wave of feeling flow over the congregation, and people may be carried away as with a flood, and rest in false hopes. The only way to secure sound conversions, is to deal faithfully with the conscience. If attention flags at any time, appeal to the feelings again, and rouse it up; but do your work with conscience.
(k) If he can, it is desirable that a minister should learn the effect of one sermon, before he preaches another. What would be thought of the physician who should give medicine to his patient, and then give it again and again, without trying to learn the effect of the first? A minister never will be able to deal with sinners as he ought, till he can find out whether his instruction has been received and understood, and whether the difficulties in sinners' minds are cleared away, and their path open to the Savior, so that they need not go on stumbling and stumbling till their souls are lost.
1. We see why so few of the leading minds in many communities are converted.
Until the late revivals, professional men were rarely reached by preaching, and they were almost all infidels at heart. People almost understood the Bible to warrant the idea that they could not be converted. The reason is obvious. The Gospel had not been commended to the conscience of such men. Ministers had not reasoned so as to make that class of mind see the truth of the Gospel, and feel its power; consequently such persons had come to regard religion as something unworthy of their notice.
Of late years, however, the case is altered, and in some places there have been more of this class of persons converted, in proportion to their numbers, than of any other. That is because they were made to understand the claims of the Gospel. The preacher grappled with their minds, and showed them the reasonableness of religion. And when this is done, it is found that this class of mind is more easily converted than any other.
They have so much better capacity to receive an argument, and are so much more in the habit of yielding to the force of reason, that as soon as the Gospel gets a fair hold of their minds, it breaks them right down, and melts them down at the feet of Christ.
(b) Written sermons are not calculated to produce the requisite effect. Such preaching does not present the truth in right shape.
It is impossible for a man who writes his sermons to arrange his matter, and turn and choose his thoughts, so as to produce the same effect as when he addresses the people directly, and makes them feel that he means them. Writing sermons had its origin in times of political difficulty. The practice was unknown in the apostles' days. No doubt written sermons have done a great deal of good, but they can never give to the Gospel its great power.
Perhaps many ministers have been so long trained in the use of notes, that they had better not throw them away. Perhaps they would make bad work without them. The difficulty would not be for want of mind, but from wrong training. The bad habit is begun with the schoolboy, who is called to "speak his piece." Instead of being set to express his own thoughts and feelings in his own language, and in his own natural manner, such as Nature herself prompts, he is made to commit another person's writing to memory, and then he mouths it out in a stiff and formal way. And so when he goes to college, and to the seminary, instead of being trained to extempore speaking, he is set to write his piece, and commit it to memory.
I would pursue the opposite course from the beginning. I would give him a subject, and let him first think, and then speak his thoughts. Perhaps he will make mistakes. Very well, that is to be expected in a beginner. But he will learn. Suppose he is not eloquent, at first. Very well, he can improve.
And he is in the very way to improve. This kind of training alone will raise up a class of ministers who can convert the world.
But it is objected to extemporaneous preaching, that if ministers do not write, they will not think. This objection will have weight with those men whose habit has always been to write down their thoughts. But to a man of different habit, it will have no weight at all.
The mechanical labor of writing is really a hindrance to close and rapid thought. It is true that some extempore preachers have not been men of thought. But so it is true that many men who write sermons are not men of thought. A man whose habits have always been such, that he has thought only when he has put his mind on the end of his pen, will, of course, if he lays aside his pen, at first find it difficult to think; and if he attempts to preach without writing, will, until his habits are thoroughly changed, find it difficult to throw into his sermons the same amount of thought, as if he conformed to his old habit of writing. But it should be remembered that this is only on account of his having been trained to write, and having always habituated himself to it. It is the training and habit that render it so difficult for him to think without writing. Will anybody pretend to say that lawyers are not men of thought? That their arguments before a court and jury are not profound and well digested? And yet every one knows that they do not write their speeches.
I have heard much of this objection to extempore preaching ever since I entered the ministry. It was often said to me then, in answer to my views of extempore preaching, that ministers who preached extemporaneously would not instruct the Churches, that there would be a great deal of sameness in their preaching, and they would soon become insipid and repetitious for want of thought. But every year's experience has ripened the conviction on my mind, that the reverse of this objection is true. The man who writes least, may, if he pleases, think most, 46 and will say what he does think in a manner that will be better understood than if it were written; and that, just in the proportion that he lays aside the labor of writing, his body will be left free to exercise, and his mind to vigorous and consecutive thought.
The great reason why it is supposed that extempore preachers more frequently repeat the same thoughts in their preaching, is because what they say is, in a general way, more perfectly remembered by the congregation, than if it had been read. I have often known preachers who could repeat their written sermons once in a few months, without the fact being recognized by the congregation. But the manner in which extempore sermons are generally delivered is so much more impressive, that the thoughts cannot in general be soon repeated without being remembered.
We shall never have a set of men in our halls of legislation, in our courts of justice, and in our pulpits, who are powerful and overwhelming speakers, and can carry the world before them, till our system of education teaches them to think, closely, rapidly, consecutively, and till all their habits of speaking in the schools are extemporaneous. The very style of communicating thought, in what is commonly called a good style of writing, is not calculated to leave a deep impression. It is not laconic, direct, pertinent. It is not the language of nature.
In delivering a sermon in this essay style of writing, it is impossible that nearly all the fire of meaning, and power of gesture, and looks, and attitude, and emphasis, should not be lost. We can never have the full meaning of the Gospel, till we throw away our written sermons.
I mean just as I say. I am not now going to discuss the question whether all education ought not to be theological. But I say education for the ministry should be exclusively so. But you will ask: Should not a minister understand science? I would answer: Yes; the more the better. I would that ministers might understand all science. But it should all be in connection with theology. Studying science is studying the works of God. And studying theology is studying God.
Let a scholar be asked, for instance, this question: "Is there a God?" To answer it, let him ransack the universe, let him go out into every department of science to find the proofs of design, and in this way to learn the existence of God. Let him ransack creation to see whether there is such a unity of design as evinces that there is one God. In like manner, let him inquire concerning the attributes of God, and His character. He will learn science here, but will learn it as a part of theology. Let him search every field of knowledge to bring forward his proofs. What was the design of this plan? What was the end of that arrangement? See whether everything you find in the universe is not calculated to produce happiness, unless perverted.
Would the student's heart get hard and cold in study, as cold and hard as college walls, if science were pursued in this way? Every lesson brings him right up before God, and is, in fact, communion with God, which warms his heart, and makes him more pious, more solemn, more holy. The very distinction between classical and theological study is a curse to the Church, and a curse to the world. The student spends four years in college at classical studies, with no God in them; and then three years in the seminary, at theological studies; and what then? Poor young man! Set him to work, and you will find that he is not educated for the ministry at all.
4. We learn what revival preaching is. All ministers should be revival ministers, and all preaching should be revival preaching; that is, it should be calculated to promote holiness. People say: "It is very well to have some men in the Church, who are revival preachers, and who can go about and promote revivals; but then you must have others to indoctrinate the Church." Strange! Do they know that a revival indoctrinates the Church faster than anything else? And a minister will never produce a revival if he does not indoctrinate his hearers. The preaching I have described is full of doctrine, but it is doctrine to be practiced. And that is revival preaching.
5. There are two objections sometimes brought against the kind of preaching which I have recommended.
(a) That it is letting down the dignity of the pulpit to preach in this colloquial, lawyer-like style. They are shocked at it. But it is only on account of its novelty, and not for any impropriety there is in the thing itself. I heard a remark made by a leading layman in regard to the preaching of a certain minister. He said it was the first preaching he had ever heard, that he understood, and the minister was the first he had heard who spoke as if he believed his own doctrine, or meant what he said. The layman further said that when first he heard the minister preach - as if he really meant what he said - he came to the conclusion that such a preacher must be crazy! But, eventually, he was made to see that it was all true, and then he submitted to the truth, as the power of God for the salvation of his soul.
What is the dignity of the pulpit? What an idea, to see a minister go into the pulpit to sustain its dignity! Alas, alas! During my foreign tour, I heard an English missionary preach exactly in that way. I believe he was a good man, and out of the pulpit he would talk like a man who meant what he said. But no sooner was he in the pulpit than he appeared like a perfect automaton - swelling, mouthing, and singing, enough to put all the people to sleep. And the difficulty seemed to be that he wanted to maintain the dignity of the pulpit.
(b) It is objected that this preaching is theatrical. The Bishop of London once asked Garrick, the celebrated actor, why it was that actors, in representing a mere fiction, should move an assembly, even to tears, while ministers, in representing the most solemn realities, could scarcely obtain a hearing. The philosophical Garrick well replied: "It is because we represent fiction as reality, and you represent reality as a fiction." 47 This is telling the whole story. Now, what is the design of the actor in a theatrical representation? It is so to throw himself into the spirit and meaning of the writer, as to adopt his sentiments, and make them his own: to feel them, embody them, throw them out upon the audience as a living reality.
Now, what is the objection to all this in preaching? The actor suits the action to the word, and the word to the action. His looks, his hands, his attitudes, and everything, are designed to express the full meaning of the writer. Now, this should be the aim of the preacher. And if by "theatrical"
be meant the strongest possible representation of the sentiments expressed, then the more theatrical the sermon is, the better. And if ministers are too stiff, and the people too fastidious, to learn even from an actor, or from the stage, the best method of swaying mind, of enforcing sentiment, and diffusing the warmth of burning thought over a congregation, then they must go on with their prosing, and reading, and sanctimonious starch. But let them remember, that while they are thus turning away and decrying the art of the actor, and attempting to support the "dignity of the pulpit," the theaters can be thronged every night. The common sense of the people will be entertained with that manner of speaking, and sinners will go down to hell.
1. That he should be popular.
2. That he should be learned. These are very well. But the point that should be the first in their inquiries is: "Is he wise to win souls?" No matter how eloquent a minister is or how learned, no matter how pleasing and how popular is his manners, if it is a matter of fact that sinners are not converted under his preaching, it shows that he has not this wisdom, and your children and neighbors will go down to hell under his preaching.
I am happy to know that many Churches will ask this question about ministers, and if they find that a minister is destitute of this vital quality, they will not have him. And if ministers can be found who are wise to win souls, the Churches will have such ministers. It is in vain to contend against it, or to pretend that they are not well educated, or not learned, or the like. It is in vain for the schools to try to force down the throats of the Churches a race of ministers who are learned in everything but what they most need to know.
It is very difficult to say what needs to be said on this subject, without being in danger of begetting a wrong spirit in the Church towards ministers. Many professors of religion are ready to find fault with ministers when they have no reason; insomuch, that it becomes very difficult to say of ministers what is true, and what needs to be said, without one's remarks being perverted and abused by this class of professors. I would not, for the world, say anything to injure the influence of a minister of Christ, who is really endeavoring to do good. But, to tell the truth will not injure the influence of those ministers who, by their lives and preaching, give evidence to the Church that their object is to do good, and win souls for Christ. This class of ministers will recognize the truth of all that I have said, or wish to say. They see it all and deplore it. But if there be ministers who are doing no good, who are feeding themselves and not the flock, such ministers deserve no influence. If they are doing no good, it is time for them to betake themselves to some other profession.
They are but leeches on the very vitals of the Church, sucking out its heart's blood. They are useless, and worse than useless. And the sooner they are laid aside and their places filled with those who will exert themselves for Christ, the better.
Finally. It is the duty of the Church to pray for us, ministers. Not one of us is such as he ought to be. Like Paul, we can say: "Who is sufficient for these things?" ( 2 Corinthians 2:16.) But who among us is like Paul? Where will you find such ministers as Paul? They are not here. We have been wrongly educated, all of us. Pray for the schools, and colleges, and seminaries. And pray for young men who are preparing for the ministry.
Pray for ministers, that God would give them this wisdom to win souls.
And pray that God would bestow upon the Church the wisdom and the means to educate a generation of ministers who will go forward and convert the world. The Church must travail in prayer, and groan and agonize for this. This is now the pearl of price to the Church - to have a supply of the right sort of ministers. The coming of the millennium depends on having a different sort of ministers, who are more thoroughly educated for their work. And this we shall have so sure as the promise of the Lord holds good. Such a ministry as is now in the Church will never convert the world, but the world is to be converted, and therefore God intends to have ministers who will do it. "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest" (Luke 10:2).