ANECDOTES FROM THE PULPIT
IT is pretty generally admitted that sermons may wisely be adorned with a fair share of illustrations; but anecdotes used to that end are still regarded by the prudes of the pulpit with a measure of suspicion. They will come down low enough to quote an emblem, they will deign to use poet’s imagery; but they cannot stoop to tell a simple, homely story. They would probably say in confidence to their younger brethren, “Beware how you lower yourselves and your sacred office by repeating anecdotes, which are best appreciated by the vulgar and uneducated.” We would not retort by exhorting all men to abound in stories, for there ought to be discrimination.
It is freely admitted that there are useful and admirable styles of oratory which would be disfigured by a rustic tale; and there are honored brethren whose genius would never allow them to relate a story, for it would not appear suitable to their mode of thought. Upon these we would not even by implication hint at a censure; but when we are dealing with others. who seem to be somewhat, and are not what they seem, we feel no tenderness; nay, we are even moved to assail their stilted greatness. If they sneer at anecdotes, we smile at them and their sneers, and wish them more sense and less starch. Affectation of intellectual superiority and love of rhetorical splendor have prevented many from setting forth gospel truth in the easiest. imaginable manner, namely, by analogies drawn from common events.
Because they could not condescend to men of low estate they have refrained from repeating incidents which would have accurately explained their meaning. Fearing to be thought vulgar, they have lost golden opportunities. As well might David have refused to sling one of the smooth stones at Goliath’s brow because he found it in a common brook.
From individuals so lofty in their ideas nothing is likely to flow down to the masses of the people but a glacial eloquence, — a river of ice. Dignity is a most poor and despicable consideration unless it be the dignity of turning many to righteousness; and yet divines who have had scarcely enough of real dignity to save themselves from contempt, have swollen “huge as high Olympus” through the affectation of it. A young gentleman, after delivering an elaborate discourse, was told that not more than five or six in the congregation had been able to understand him. This he accepted as a tribute to his genius; but I take leave to place him in the same class with another person who was accustomed to shake his head in the most profound manner that he might make his prelections the more impressive, and this had some effect with the groundlings, until a shrewd Christian woman made the remark that he did shake his head certainly, but that there was nothing in, it. Those who are too refined to be simple need to be refined again. Luther has well put it in his Table-Talk: “Cursed are all preachers that in the church aim at high and hard things; and neglecting the saving health of the poor unlearned people, seek their own honor and praise, and therefore try to please one or two great persons. When I preach I sink myself deep down. ” It may be superfluous to remind you of the oftquoted passage from George Herbert’s “Country Parson,” and yet I cannot omit it, because it is so much to my mind: — “The Parson also serves himself of the judgments of God, as of those of ancient times, so especially of the late ones; and those most which are nearest to his parish; for people are very attentive at such discourses, and think it behoves them to be so when God is so near them, and even over their heads. Sometimes he tells them stories and sayings of others, according as his text invites him; for them also men heed, and remember better than exhortations; which, though earnest, yet often die with the sermon, especially with country people, which are thick, and heavy, and hard to raise to a point of zeal and fervency, and need a mountain of fire to kindle them, but stories and sayings they will well remember.”
It ought never to be forgotten that the great God himself, when he would instruct men, employs histories and biographies. Oar Bible contains doctrines, promises, and precepts; but these are not left alone, the whole book is vivified and illustrated by marvelous records of things said and done by God and by men. He who is taught of God values the sacred histories, and knows that in them there is a special fullness and forcibleness of instruction. Teachers of Scripture cannot do better than instruct ,their fellows after the manner of the Scriptures.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the great teacher of teachers, did not disdain the use of anecdotes. To my mind it seems clear that certain of his parables were facts and, consequently, anecdotes. May not the story of the Prodigal Son have been a literal truth? Were there not actual instances of an enemy sowing tares among the wheat? May not the rich fool who said — “Take thine ease,” have been a photograph taken from the life? Did not Dives and Lazarus actually figure on the stage of history? Certainly the story of those who were crushed by the fall of the tower of Siloam, and the sad tragedy of the Galilaeans, “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices,” were matters of current Jewish gossip, and our Lord turned both of them to good account. What HE did we need not be ashamed to do. That we may do it with all wisdom and prudence let us seek the guidance of the Divine Spirit which rested upon him so continually.
I shall make up this present address by quoting the examples of great preachers, beginning with the era of the Reformation, and following on without any very rigid chronological order down to our own day.
Examples are more powerful than precepts; hence I quote them.
First, let me mention that grand old preacher, Hugh Latimer, the most English of all our divines; and one whose influence over our land was undoubtedly most powerful. Southey says, “Latimer more than any other man promoted the Reformation by his preaching”; and in this he echoes the more important utterance of Ridley, who wrote from his prison, “I do think that the Lord hath placed old father Latimer to be his standard-bearer in our age and country against his mortal foe, Antichrist.” If you have read any of his sermons, you must have been struck with the number of his quaint stories, seasoned with a homely humor which smacks of that Leicestershire farmhouse wherein he was brought up by a father who did yeoman’s service, and a mother who milked thirty kine. No doubt we may attribute to these stories the breaking down of pews by the overwhelming rush of the people to hear him; and the general interest which his sermons excited. More of such preaching, and we should have less fear of the return of Popery. The common people heard him gladly, and his lively anecdotes accounted for much of their eager attention. A few of these narratives one could hardly repeat, for the taste of our age has happily improved in delicacy; but others are most admirable and instructive. Here are three of them: — THE FRIAR’ S MAN AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. “I will tell you now a pretty story of a friar, to refresh you withal. A limiter of the grey friars in the time of his limitation preached many times, and had but one sermon at all times; which sermon was of the ten commandments. And because this friar had preached this sermon so often, one that heard it before told the friar’s servant that his master was called ‘Friar John Ten Commandments’: wherefore the servant showed the friar his master thereof, and advised him to preach of some other matters; for it grieved the servant to hear his master derided. Now, the friar made answer saying, ‘Be like, then, thou canst say the ten commandments well, seeing thou hast heard them so many a time.’ ‘Yea,’ said the servant, ‘I warrant you.’ ‘Let me hear them,’ saith the master; then he began, ‘pride, covetousness, lechery,’ and so numbered the deadly sins for the ten commandments. And so there be many at this time, which be weary of the old gospel; they would fain hear some new things: they think themselves so perfect in the old, when they be no more skillful than this servant was in his ten commandments.”
S.ANTHONY AND THE COBBLER.
“We read a pretty story of S. Anthony, which, being in the wilderness, led there a very hard and straight life, insomuch as none at that’ time did the like. To whom came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Anthony, thou art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwelleth at Alexandria.’ Anthony, hearing this, rose up forthwith, and took his staff and went till he came to Alexandria, where he found the cobbler. The cobbler was astonished to see so reverend a father to come into his house. Then Anthony said unto him, ‘Come and tell me thy whole conversation, and how thou spendest thy time.’ ‘Sir,’ said the cobbler, ‘as for me, good works I have none, for my life is but simple and slender; I am but a poor cobbler. In the morning, when I arise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, specially for all such neighbors and poor friends as I have. After, I set me at my labor, where I spend the whole day in getting of my living, and keep me from all falsehood’; for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness: wherefore, when I make ,to any man a promise. I keep it and do it truly; and so spend my time poorly with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. This is the sum of my simple life.’ “In this story you see how God loveth those that follow their vocation, and live uprightly without any falsehood in their dealing. This Anthony was a great and holy man, yet this cobbler was as much esteemed before God as he.”
THE DANGER OF PROSPERITY.
“I read once a story of a good bishop, which rode by the way and was weary, being yet far off from any town; therefore seeing a fair house, he went thither, and was very well and honorably received: there were great preparations made for him, and a great banquet; all things were in plenty. Then the man of the house set out his prosperity, and told the bishop what riches he had, in what honors and dignities he was, how many fair children he had, what a virtuous wife God had provided for him, so that he had no lack of any manner of thing, he had no trouble nor vexations, neither outward nor inward. Now this holy man, hearing the good estate of that man, called one of his servants, and commanded him to make ready the horses: for the bishop thought that God was not in that house, because there was no temptation there: he took his leave and went his ways. Now when he came a two or three mile off, he remembered his book which he had left behind him; he sent his man back again to fetch that book, and when the servant came again the house was sunken and all that was in it. Here it appeareth that it is a good thing to have temptation. This man thought himself a jolly fellow, because all things went well with him. But: he knew not St.
James’s lesson: Beatus qui suffert tentationem, ‘ Blessed is he that endureth temptation.’ Let us therefore learn here, not to be irksome when God layeth his cross upon us.”
Let us take a long leap of about a century, and we come to Jeremy Taylor, another bishop, whom I mention immediately after Latimer because he is apparently such a contrast to that homely divine, while yet in very truth he has a measure of likeness to him as to the point now in hand. They both rejoiced in figure and metaphor, and equally delighted in incident and narrative. True, the one would talk of John and William, and the other of Anexagoras and Scipio; but actual scenes were the delight of each. In this respect Jeremy Taylor may be said to be Latimer turned into Latin. Jeremy Taylor is as full of classical allusions as a king’s palace is full of rare treasures, and his language is of the lofty order which more becomes a patrician audience than a popular assembly; but when you come to the essence of things, you see that if Latimer is homely, so also Taylor narrates incidents which are homely to him; but his home is among philosophers of Greece and senators of Rome. This being understood, we venture to say that no one used more anecdotes than this splendid poet-preacher. His biographer truly says, — “It would be hard to point out a branch of learning or of scientific pursuit to which he does not occasionally allude; or any author of eminence, either ancient or modern, with whom he does not evince himself acquainted. He more than once refers to obscure stories in ancient writers, as if they were of necessity as familiar to all his readers as to himself; as for instance, he talks of ‘poor Attillius Aviola,’ and again of ‘the Libyan lion that brake loose into his wilderness and killed two Roman boys.’” In all this he is eminently select and classical, and therefore I the more freely introduce him here; for there can be no reason why our anecdotes should all be rustic; we, too, may rifle the treasures of antiquity, and make the heathen contribute to the gospel, even as Hiram of Tyre served under Solomon’s direction for the building of the temple of the Lord.
I am no admirer of Taylor’s style in other respects, and his teaching seems to be at times semi-popish; bat in this place I have only to deal with him upon one particular, and of that matter he is an admirable example. He lavishes classic stories even as an Asiatic queen bedecks herself with countless pearls. Out of a single sermon I extract the following, which may suffice for our purpose: — STUDENTS PROGRESSING BACKWARDS “Menedemus was wont to say, ‘that the young boys that went to Athens, the first year were wise men, the second year philosophers, the third orators, and the fourth were but plebeians, and understood nothing but their own ignorance.’ And just so it happens to some in the progresses of religion; at first they are violent and active, and then they satiate all the appetites of religion; and that which is left is, that they were soon weary, and sat down in displeasure, and return to the world, and dwell in the business of pride or money; and, by this time, they understand that their religion is declined, and passed from the heats and follies of youth to the coldness and infirmities of old age.”
THE PROUD MAN WHO BOASTED OF HIS HUMILITY.
“He was noted for a vain person, who, being overjoyed for the cure (as he thought) of his pride, cried out to his wife,’ Cerne , deposui fastum ;’ ‘Behold, I have laid aside all my pride.’” DIOGENES AND THE YOUNG MEN “Diogenes once spied a young man coming out of a tavern or place of entertainment, who, perceiving himself observed by the philosopher, with some confusion stepped back again, that he might, if possible, preserve his fame with that severe person. But Diogenes told him, Quanto magis intraveris, tanto magis eris in caupona: ‘The more you go back, the longer you are in the place where you are ashamed to be seen.’ He that conceals his sin still retains that which he counts his shame and burden.”
No examples will have greater weight with you than those taken from among the Puritans, in whose steps it is our desire to walk, though, alas! we follow with feeble feet. Certain of them abounded in anecdotes and stories: Thomas Brooks is a signal instance of the wise and wealthy use of holy fancy. I put him first, because I reckon him to be the first in the special art which is. now under consideration. He hath dust of gold; for even in the margins of his books there are sentences of exceeding preciousness, and hints at classic stories. His style is clear and full; he never so exceeds in illustration as to lose sight of his doctrine. His floods of metaphor never drown his meaning, but float it upon their surface. If you have never read. his works I almost envy you the joy of entering for the first time upon his “Unsearchable Riches,” trying his “Precious Remedies,” tasting his “Apples of Gold,” communing with his “Mute Christian,” and enjoying his other masterly writings. Let me give you a taste of his quality in the way of anecdotes. Here are a few brief ones which lie almost upon the same page; but he so abounds with them that you may readily cull scores of better ones for yourselves.
“A soul under special manifestations of love weeps that it can love Christ no more. Mr. Welch, a Suffolk minister, weeping at table, and being asked the reason of it, answered, it was because he could love Christ no more. The true lovers of Christ can never rise high enough in their love to Christ; they count a little love to be no love; great love to be but little; strong love to be but weak; and the highest love to be infinitely below the worth of Christ, the beauty and glory of Christ, the fullness, sweetness, and goodness of Christ.
The top of their misery in this life is, that they love so little, though they are so much beloved.”
“Such was the silence of Philip the Second, king of Spain, that when his invincible Armada, that had been three years a-fitting, was lost, he gave command that all over Spain they should give thanks to God and the saints that it was no more grievous.”
FAVORITES SUBMITTING TO THEIR LORDS.
“When Tiribazus, a noble Persian, was arrested, at first he drew his sword and defended himself; but when they charged him in the king’s name, and informed him that they came from the king, and were commanded to bring him to the king, he yielded willingly.
Seneca persuaded his friend to bear his affliction quietly, because he was the emperor’s favorite, telling him that it was not lawful for him to complain whilst Caesar was his friend. So saith the holy Christian, Oh, my soul! be quiet, be still; all is in love, all is a fruit of Divine favor.”
SIR PHILIP SYDNEY.
“A religious commander being shot in battle, when the wound was searched and the bullet cut out, some standing by, pitying his pain, he replied, ‘Though I groan, yet I bless God I do not grumble. God allows his people to groan, though not to grumble.’” Thomas Adams, the Conforming Puritan, whose sermons are full of rugged force and profound meaning, never hesitated to insert a story when he felt that it would enforce his teaching. His starting-point is ever some Biblical sentence, or scriptural history; and this he works out with much elaboration, bringing to it all the treasures of his mind. As Stowell says, “Fables, anecdotes, classical poetry, gems from the fathers and other old writers, are scattered over almost every page.” His anecdotes are usually rough-and-ready ones, and might be compared to those of Latimer, only they are not so genial; their humor is generally grim and caustic. The following may serve as fair specimens: — THE HUSBAND AND HIS WITTY WIFE. “The husband told his wife, that he had one ill quality, he was given to be angry without cause; she wittily replied, that she would keep him from that fault, for she would give him cause enough. It is the folly of some that they will be offended without cause, to whom the world promises that they shall have causes enough. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation.’” THE SERVANT AT THE SERMON. “It is ordinary with many to commend the lecture to others’ ears, but few commend it to their own hearts. It is morally true what the Christian Tell-truth relates: A servant coming from church, praiseth the sermon to his master. He asks him what was the text. Nay, quoth the servant, it was begun before I came in. What then was his conclusion? He answered, I came out before it was done. But what said he in the midst? Indeed I was asleep in the midst. Many crowd to get into the church, but make no room for the sermon to get into them.”
THE PICTURE OF AHORSE.
“One charged a painter to draw him equum volitantem, a trotting or prancing horse; and he (mistaking the word) drew him volutantem, a wallowing or tumbling horse, with his heels upward. Being brought home, and the bespeaker blaming his error; I would have him prancing, and you have made him tumbling. If that be all, quoth the painter, it is but turning the picture wrong side uppermost, and you have your desire. Thus in their quodlibetical discourses they can but turn the lineaments, and the matter is as they would have it.
I speak not this to disgrace all their learning, but their fruitless, needless disputes and arguments, who find themselves a tongue, where the Scripture allows them none.”
“As when the desperate pirate, ransacking and rifling a bottom, was told by the master, that though no law could touch him for the present, he should answer it at the day of judgment; replied, Nay, if I may stay so long ere I come to it, I will take thee and thy vessel too. A conceit wherewith too many land-thieves, oppressors, flatter themselves in their hearts, though they dare not utter it with their lips.” William Gurnall, the author of “The Christian in Complete Armor,” must surely have been a relater of pertinent stories in his sermons, since even in his set and solid writings they occur. Perhaps I need not have made the distinction between his writings and his preaching, for it appears from the preface that his “Christian in Complete Armor” was preached before it was printed. In vivid imagery every page of his famous book abounds, and whenever this is the case we are sure to light upon short narratives and striking incidents. He is as profuse in illustration as either Brooks, Watson, or Swinnock. Happy Lavenham to have been served by such a pastor! By the way, this “Complete Armor” is beyond all others a preacher’s book: I should think that more discourses have been suggested by it than by any other uninspired volume. I have often resorted to it when my own fire has been burning low, and I have seldom failed to find a glowing coal upon Gurnall’s hearth. John Newton said that if he might read only one book beside the Bible, he would choose “The Christian in Complete Armor,” and Cecil was of much the same opinion. J. C. Ryle has said of it, “You will often find in a line and a half some great truth, put so concisely, and yet so fully, that’ you really marvel how so much thought could be got into so few words.” One or two stories from the early part of his great work must suffice for our purpose.
BIRD SAFE IN AMAN’ S BOSOM.
“A heathen could say, when a bird (feared by a hawk) flew into his bosom, ‘I will not betray thee unto thine enemy, seeing thou comest for sanctuary unto me.’ How much less will God yield up a soul unto its enemy, when it takes sanctuary in his Name, saying, ‘Lord, I am hunted with such a temptation, dogged with such a lust; either thou must pardon it, or I am damned; mortify it, or I shall be a slave to it; take me into the bosom of thy love for Christ’s sake; castle me in the arms of thy everlasting strength; it is in thy power to save me from, or give me up into, the hands of my enemy: I have no confidence in myself or any other; into thy hands I commit my cause, my life, and rely on thee.’ This dependence of a soul undoubtedly will awaken the almighty power of God for such a one’s defense: he hath sworn the greatest oath that can come out of his blessed lips, even by himself, that such as ‘flee for refuge’ to hope in him shall have ‘strong consolation’: Hebrews 6:17,18.”
THE PRINCE WITH HIS FAMILY IN DANGER.
“Suppose a king’s son should get out of a besieged city, where he hath left his wife and children (whom he loves as his own soul), and these all ready to die by sword or famine, if supply come not the sooner; could this prince, when arrived at his father’s house, please himself with the delights of the court, and forget the distress of his family? or rather would he not come post to his father (having their cries and groans always in his ears), and, before he ate or drank, do his errand to his father, and entreat him, if ever he loved him, that he would send all force of his kingdom to raise the siege, rather than any of his dear relations should perish? Surely, sirs, though Christ be in the top of his preferment, and out of the storm in regard of his own person, yet his children, left behind in the midst of sin’s, Satan’s, and the world’s batteries, are in his heart, and shall not be forgotten a moment by him. The care he takes in our business appeared in the speedy despatch he made of his Spirit to his apostles’ supply, which, as soon almost as he was warm in his seat at his Father’s right hand, he sent, to the incomparable comfort of his apostles and us that to this day, yea, to the end of the world, do or shall believe on him.”
“When God honors a person to suffer for his truth, this is a great privilege: ‘Unto you it is given not only to believe, but to suffer for his sake.’ God doth not use to give worthless gifts to his saints, there is some preciousness in it which a carnal eye cannot see.
Faith, you will say, is a great gift; but perseverance greater, without which faith would be little worth, and perseverance in suffering is above both honorable. This made John Careless, an English martyr (who though he died not at the stake, yet in prison for Christ), say, ‘Such an honor ‘tis as angels are not permitted to have; therefore, God forgive me mine unthankfulness.’” MR.BENBRIDGE. “Oh, how many die at the gallows as martyrs in the devil’s cause for felonies, rapes, and murders! He might withdraw his grace, and leave thee to thy own cowardice and unbelief, and then thou wouldest soon show thyself in thy colors. The stoutest champions for Christ have been taught how weak they are if Christ steps aside.
Some that have given great testimony of their faith and resolution in Christ’s cause, even to come so near dying for his name as to give themselves to be bound to the stake, and fire to be kindled upon them, yet their hearts have failed; as that holy man, Mr. Benbridge, in our English martyrology, who thrust the faggots from him, and cried out, ‘I recant, I recant!’ Yet this man, when reinforced in his faith, and indued with power from above, was able within the space of a week after that sad foil, to die at the stake cheerfully. He that once overcame death for us, ‘tis he that always overcame death in us.” John Flavel is a name which I shall have to quote in another lecture, for he is greatest in metaphor and allegory; but in the matter of anecdote his preaching is a fine example. It was said of his ministry that he who was unaffected by it must either have had a very soft head or a very hard heart.
He had a fund of striking incidents, and a faculty of happy illustration, and as he was a man in whose manner cheerfulness was blended with solemnity, he was popular in the highest degree both at home and abroad.
He sought out words which might suit the sailors of Dartmouth and farmers of Devon, and therefore he has left behind him his “Navigation Spiritualized,” and his “Husbandry Spiritualized,” a legacy for each of the two orders of men who plough the sea and the land. He was a man worth making a pilgrimage to hear. What a crime it was to silence his heaventouched lips by the abominable Act of Uniformity! Instead of quoting several passages from his sermons, each one containing an anecdote, I have thought it as well to give a mass of stories as we find them in his prelections upon — PROVIDENCE IN CONVERSION. “A scrap of paper accidentally coming to view hath been used as an occasion of conversion. This was the case of a minister of Wales, who had two livings, but took little care of either. He being at a fair, bought something at a pedlar’s standing, and rent off a leaf of Mr. Perkins’ catechism to wrap it in; and reading a line or two of it, God sent it home so as it did the work.” “The marriage of a godly man into a carnal family hath been ordered by Providence for the conversion and salvation of many therein. Thus we read, in the life of that renowned English worthy, Mr. John Bruen, that, in his second’ match, it was agreed that he should have one year’s diet in his mother-in-law’s house. During his abode there that year (saith Mr. Clark) the Lord was pleased by his means graciously to work upon her soul, as also upon his wife’s sister, and half-sister, their brothers, Mr. William and Mr. Thomas Fox, with one or two of the servants in that family.” “Not only the reading of a book, or hearing of a minister, but (which is most remarkable) the very mistake or forgetfulness of a minister hath been improved by Providence for this end and purpose. Augustine, once preaching to his congregation, forgot the argument which he first proposed, and fell upon the errors of the Manichees, beside his first intention; by which discourse he converted one Firmus, his auditor, who fell down at his feet weeping, and confessing he had rived a Manichee many years.
Another I knew, who, going to preach, took up another Bible than that he had designed, in which, not only missing his notes, but the chapter also in which his text lay, was put to some loss thereby; but after a short pause he resolved to speak to any other Scripture that might be presented to him, and accordingly read the text, ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise’ (2 Peter 3:9); and though he had nothing prepared, yet the Lord helped him to speak both methodically and pertinently from it; by which discourse a gracious change was wrought upon one in the congregation, who hath since given good evidence of a sound conversion, and acknowledged this sermon to be the first and only means thereof.” “Going to hear a sermon in jest hath proved some men’s conversion in earnest. Mr. Firmin, in his ‘Real Christian,’ tells us of a notorious drunkard, whom the drunkards called ‘Father,’ that one day would needs go to hear what Wilson said, out of no other design, it seems, but to scoff at the holy man; but in the prayer before sermon, his heart began to thaw, and when he read his text, which was, ‘Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee’ (John 5:14), he could not contain: and in that sermon the Lord changed his heart, though formerly so bitter an enemy that the minister on lecture-days was afraid to go to church before his shop door. ‘Lo, these are parts of his ways; ‘but how little a portion is heard of him?’” George Swinnock , for some years chaplain to Hampden, had the gift of illustration largely developed, as his works prove. Some of his similes are far-fetched, and the growth of knowledge has rendered certain of them obsolete; but they served his purpose, and made his teaching attractive.
After deducting all his fancies, which in the present age would be judged to be strained, there remains “a rare amount of sanctified wit and wisdom”; and sparkling here and there we spy out a few telling stories, mostly of classic origin.
THE PRAYER OF PAULINUS.
“It was the speech of Paulinus, when his city was taken by the barbarians, Domine, ne excrucier ob aurum et argentum: ‘ Lord, let me not be troubled for my silver and gold which I have lost, for thou art all things.’ As Noah, when the whole world was overwhelmed with water, had a fair epitome of it in the ark, having all sorts of beasts and fowls there; so he that in a deluge hath God to be his God, hath the original of all mercies. He who enjoyeth the ocean may rejoice, though some drops are taken from him.”
QUEEN ELIZABETH AND THE MILKMAID.
“Queen Elizabeth envied the milkmaid when she was in prison; but had she known the glorious reign which she was to have for fortyfour years, she would not have repined at the poor happiness of so mean a person. Christians are too prone to envy the husks which wandering sinners fill themselves with here below; but would they set before them their glorious hopes of a heaven, how they must reign with Christ for ever and ever, they would see little reason for their repining.”
THE BELIEVING CHILD.
“I have read a story of a little child about eight or nine years old, that being extremely pinched with hunger, looked one day pitifully necessitous on her mother, and said, ‘Mother, do you think that God will starve us?’ The mother answered, ‘No, child, he will not.’
The child replied, ‘But if he do, yet we must love him and serve him.’ Here was language that spake a well-grown Christian. trot indeed God brings us to want and misery, to try us whether we love him for his own sake, or for our own sakes, or for those excellencies that are in him, or for those mercies we have from him; to see whether we will say with the cynic to Antisthenes, Nullus lain durus erit baculus, etc. ‘There should be no cudgel so crabbed as to beat me from thee.’” FASHIONABLE RELIGION. “I have read of a popish lady in Paris, that when she saw a glorious procession to one of their saints, cried out, ‘Oh, how fine is our religion beyond that of the Huguenots! — they have a mean and beggarly religion, but ours is full of bravery and solemnity.’ But as heralds say of a coat of arms, if it be full of gays and devices, it speaks a mean descent; so truly that manner of worship which is mingled with men’s inventions speaks its descent to be mean — namely, from man.”
THE BUSY DUKE.
“The French Duc d’Alva could say, when he was asked by Henry the Fourth whether he had seen the eclipse of the sun, that he had so much business to do upon earth, that he had no time to look up to heaven. Sure I am, the Christian may say with more truth and conscience, that he hath so much business to do for heaven, that he hath no time to mind vain or earthly things.” Thomas Watson was one of the many Puritan preachers who won the popular ear by their frequent illustrations. In the clear flowing stream of his teaching we find pearls of anecdote very frequently. No one ever grew weary under such pleasant yet weighty discourse as that which we find in his “Beatitudes.” Let two quotations serve to show his skill.
THE VESTAL AND THE BRACELETS.
“Most men think because God hath blessed them with an estate, therefore they are blessed. Alas! God often gives these things in anger. He loads his enemies with gold and silver; as Plutarch reports of Tarpeia, a Vestal nun, who bargained with the enemy to betray the Capitol of Rome to them, in case she might have the golden bracelets on their left hands, which they promised; and being entered into the Capitol, they threw not only their bracelets, but their bucklers, too, upon her, through the weight whereof she was pressed to death. God often lets men have the golden bracelets of worldly substance, the weight whereof sinks them into hell. Oh, let us superna anhelare, get our eyes ‘fixed’ and our hearts ‘united’ to God the supreme good; this is to pursue blessedness as in a chase.”
HEDGEHOG AND CONIES.
“The Fabulist tells a story of the hedgehog that came to the conyburrows in stormy weather, and desired harbor, promising that he would be a quiet guest; but when once he had gotten entertainment, he did set up his prickles, and did never leave till he had thrust the poor conies out of their burrows: so covetousness, though it hath many fair pleas to insinuate and wind itself into the heart, yet as soon as you have let it in, this thorn will never cease pricking till it hath choked all good beginnings, and thrust all religion out of your hearts.”
I think this must suffice to represent the men of the Puritanic period, who added to their profound theology and varied learning a zeal to be understood, and a skill in setting forth truth by the help of every-day occurrences. The age which followed them was barren of spiritual life, and was afflicted by a race of rhetorical divines, whose words had little connection with the Word of life The scanty thought of the Queen Anne dignitaries needed no aid of metaphor or parable, there was nothing to explain to the people; the utmost endeavor of these divines was to hide the nakedness of their discourses with the fig-leaves of Latinized verbiage.
Living preaching was gone, spiritual life was gone, and consequently a pulpit was set up which had no voice for the common people; no voice, indeed, for anybody except the mere formalist, who is content if decorum be observed and respectability maintained. Of course, our notion of making truth dear by stories did not suit the dignified death of the period, and it was only when the dry bones began to be stirred that the popular method was again brought to the front.
The illustrious George Whitefield stands, with Wesley, at the head of that noble army who led the Revival of the last century. It is not at this present any part of my plan to speak of his matchless eloquence, unquenchable earnestness, and incessant labor; but it is quite according to the run of my lecture to remind you of his own saying, — “I use market language.” He employed pure, good, flowing English; but he was as simple as if he spoke to children. Although by no means abounding in illustration, yet he always employed it when needed, and he named incidents with great power of action and emphasis. His stories were so told that they thrilled the people: they saw as well as heard, for each word had its proper gesture. One reason why he could be understood at so great a distance was the fact that the eye helped the ear. As specimens of his anecdotes I have selected these which follow: — THE TWO CHAPLAINS. “You cannot do without the grace of God when you come to die There was a nobleman that kept a deistical chaplain, and his lady a Christian one; when he was dying, he says to his chaplain, — ‘I liked you very well when I was in health; but it is my lady’s chaplain I must have when I am sick.’” NEVER SATISFIED. “ My dear hearers, there is not a single soul of you all that are satisfied in your stations: is not the language of your hearts when apprentices, We think we shall do very well when journeymen; when journeymen, that we should do very well when masters; when single, that we shall do well when married; and to be sure you think you shall do well when you keep a carriage. I have heard of one who began low: he first wanted a house; then, says he, ‘I want two, then four, then six’; and when he had them, he said, ‘I think I want nothing else.’ ‘Yes,’ says his friend, ‘you will soon want another thing, that is, a hearse-and-six to carry you to your grave’; and that made him tremble.”
DR.MANTON’ S HEART.
“A good woman, who was charmed with Dr. Manton, said, ‘Oh, sir, you have made an excellent sermon to-day; I wish I had your heart.’ ‘Do you so?’ said he, ‘good woman; you had better not wish for it; for if you had it, you would wish for your own again.’
The best of men see themselves in the worst light.”
Fearing that the quotation of any more examples might prove tedious, I would only remind you that such men as Berridge, Rowland Hill, Matthew Wilks, Christmas Evans, William Jay, and others who have but lately departed from us, owed much of their attractiveness to the way in which they aroused their audiences, and flashed truth into their faces by wellchosen anecdotes. Time calls upon me to have done, and how can I come to a better dose than by mentioning one living man, who, above all others,. has in two continents stirred the masses of the people? — I refer to. D. L.
Moody. This admirable brother has a great aversion to the. printing of his sermons; and wall he may have, for he is incessantly preaching, and has no time allowed him for the preparation of fresh discourses; and therefore it would be great unwisdom on his. part to print at once those addresses with which he is working through a campaign. We hope, however, that when he has done with a sermon he will never suffer it to die out, but give it to the church and to the world through the press. Our esteemed brother has a lively, telling style, and he thinks it wise frequently to fasten a nail with the hammer of anecdote. Here are four or five. extracts from the little book entitled “Arrows and Anecdotes, by D. L. Moody. By John Lobb”: — THE IDIOT’ S MOTHER. “I know a mother who has an idiot child. For it she gave up all, society, almost everything, and devoted her whole life to it. ‘And now,’ said she, ‘for fourteen years I have tended it and loved it, and it does not even know me. Oh! it is breaking my heart!’ Oh I how the Lord must say this of hundreds here! Jesus comes here, and goes from seat to seat, asking if there is a place for him. Oh! will not some of you. take him into your hearts?”
SURGEON AND PATIENT.
“When I was in Belfast I knew a doctor who had a friend a leading. surgeon there, and he told me that the surgeon’s custom was, before performing any operation, to say to the patient: ‘Take a good look at the wound, and then fix your eyes on me, and don’t take them off till I get through the operation.’ I thought at the time that was a good illustration. Sinner, take a good look at the wound to-night, and then fix your eyes on Christ, and don’t take them off.
It is better to look at the remedy than at the wound.”
THE ORPHAN’ S PRAYER.
“A little child, whose father and mother had died, was taken into another family. The first night she asked if she could pray as she used to do. They said, ‘Oh, yes.’ So she knelt down, and prayed as her mother had taught her; and, when that was ended, she added a little prayer of her own: ‘Oh, God, make these people as kind to me as father and mother were.’ Then she paused, and looked up, as if expecting the answer, and added: ‘Of course he will.’ How sweetly simple was that little one’s faith! She expected God to ‘do,’ and, of course, she got her request.”
-CALL. “A soldier lay on his dying couch during our last war, and they heard him say, ‘Here! ‘They asked him what he wanted, and he put up his hand and said: ‘Hush! they are calling the roll of heaven, and I am answering to my name’; and presently he whispered: ‘Here! ‘and he was gone.”
NO HOME BEYOND THE GRAVE.
“I have been told of a wealthy man who died recently. Death came unexpectedly to him, as it almost always does; and he sent out for his lawyer to draw his will. And he went on willing away his property; and when he came to his wife and child, he said he wanted them to have the home. But the little child didn’t understand what death was. She was standing near, and she said, ‘Papa, have you got a home in that land you are going to?’ The arrow reached that heart; but it: was too late. He saw his mistake.
He had got no home beyond the grave.”
I will weary you no longer. You may safely do what the most useful of men have done before you. Copy them not only in their use of illustration, but in their wisely keeping it in subservience to their design. They were not storytellers, but preachers of the gospel; they did not aim at the entertainment of the people, but at their conversion. Never did they go out of their way to drag in a telling bit which they had been saving up for display, and never could anyone say of their illustrations that they were “Windows that exclude the light, And passages that lead to nothing.” Keep you the due proportion of things lest I do worse than lose my labor, by becoming the cause of your presenting to the people strings of anecdotes instead of sound doctrines, for that would be as evil a thing as if you offered to hungry men flowers instead of bread, and gave to the naked gauze of gossamer instead of woolen doth.